In 1985, two years before his tragic death, Andy Warhol returned to the subject which brought him to New York in 1949 and helped launch his career at the Ferus Gallery in 1962—advertisements. Twenty-four years after he embarked on his early hand-painted black and white works drawn from advertisements of refrigerators, televisions, vacuums, and telephones culled from the likes of the New York Daily News, Warhol would return to his humble beginnings. Scouring his vast oeuvre, the Ads of 1985 would bring with them the celebrity, iconography, and electricity that had become synonymous with Andy Warhol throughout the 1960s and 70s. Chief among them, Livesavers connects to his early paintings of everyday household groceries such as Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola, as well as the vibrant hues and subtle nods to “frutti-tutti” flavors in his iconic Marilyn series, which boasts such titles as Lemon, Cherry, Licorice, and Grape Marilyn.
Warhol arrived in New York in the summer of 1949. Known then as Andrew Warhola, he immediately began making connections through various advertising agencies and fashion magazines. Securing jobs at renowned publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Vogue, and high-end retail stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany & Co., and Lord and Taylor, Warhola quickly cemented his spot as a leading commercial illustrator. Of course, his largest client—and the one for which he is most well-known—was the shoe company I. Miller. As Warhola the commercial artist transformed into Warhol the Pop icon, he never lost sight of his early interest in the graphic arts. Turning to newspapers and magazines, Warhol became famous for extracting, editing, and reimagining mundane household ads, headlines, and publicity photos.
Indeed, the history of the inconspicuous Life Saver fits perfectly among Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola narrative. Known for its distinctive aluminum packaging and iconic ring-shaped candy, Life Savers were first introduced in 1912. The hard candies were invented to offer a sweet alternative to chocolates which often melted in the summer heat. While Life Savers have gone through many iterations—from flavors such as anise, clove, and lavender—the iconic fruit flavors were developed in 1921. A staple candy for many Americans, during the second World War many other candy manufacturers donated their sugar rations to keep Life Savers in production so that they could be shared with the Armed Forces stationed abroad as a sweet reminder of life at home. Warhol’s lasting idea that a coke could be enjoyed by anyone no matter what their status in life, rings perfectly true for the donut shaped candies. As Dave Hickey has described: "When we are hungry for soup, don't we seek out the culturally sanctioned brand name (Campbell's) and then select the flavor according to our taste? When we want a sweet, don't we reach for the trademark Life Savers and then select the taste we prefer by its color? And when a guy wants a girl, doesn't he seek out a version of Marilyn who suits his own emotional taste and décor? If this is so, how is our taste in high art any different? Is the process really that much more refined?” (D. Hickey, “Introduction: Andy Warhol and the Dreams that Stuff is Made,” Andy Warhol “Giant” Size, New York, 2006, p. 12).
Highlighting such famous companies and figures as Chanel, Paramount, Apple Computers, Donald Duck, Ronald Reagan, James Dean and Judy Garland; Warhol’s Ads series from 1985, like so many other series from the artist’s last decade, is a true reexamination of his early works. In this series, Andy Warhol’s career truly comes full circle, blending his early days as a commercial illustrator with his mature Pop style.