Andy Warhol's One Dollar is a rare master drawing that the artist completed at the dawn of the Pop age. Executed in 1961, the year before he began his legendary silkscreening process, this large-scale work was produced when Warhol was still painting and drawing his images by hand. Derived from a photograph of one dollar bills, the present work is one of only five known major drawings that the artist made using this source. This important work was executed at a point in the artist's career where he was on the brink of a breakthrough that would change not only the course of his own career, but also much of twentieth century art history as well. With its bold graphic line and ubiquitous subject matter, One Dollar is a prophetic announcement of what was to come. In just a few short months Warhol would begin his iconic silkscreen process and the nascent lucidity of One Dollar would dramatically morph into the early black-and-white Pop aesthetic with which Warhol would make his name.
The source of this drawing was a photograph taken by Warhol's friend, Edward Wallowitch. In the original shot-part of a series that Wallowitch took of single, crumpled and rolled banknotes-he photographed three one dollar bills in a triangular configuration, with an inverted note on the bottom making up the base of the triangle. With his instinctive eye for a good image, Warhol turned the photograph upside down and focused his attention on the upper right hand corner, presumably attracted by the dramatic shadow that was cast upon the white background by the crumped nature of the note. Rotating the photograph was an unusual move for Warhol as he hardly ever interfered with the composition of the source image, however settling on a visual that pleased him he preceded to reproduce what he saw in systematic detail. Building up the image with an extensive range of dexterous marks from his pencil, he produced areas of delicate sfumato contrasted with harder edged passages of dark, almost black, graphite produced by rubbing down hard with his pencil. Warhol then completed the composition with a vivid wash of cadmium red watercolor, a dramatic contrast to the iconic green of the ubiquitous dollar bill.
At the time Warhol drew One Dollar he regarded large-scale drawings such as this, as important formative works that were a significant development in his career as an artist. Dieter Koepplin has praised these early works on paper, acknowledging that "Warhol manifestly took great pleasure in drawing, displaying endurance, concentration, and effortlessness in equal measure. On several occasions in the 1950s, he exhibited his drawings in small galleries... By doing this, he wanted to use the drawings to make himself noticed" (D. Koepplin, "Andy Warhol's Drawings Based on Photographic Nature," in Andy Warhol, Drawings 1942-1987, exh. cat., The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, 1998, p. 16).
According to one account, the idea of the dollar bill as subject matter was generated during a meeting Warhol had with Emile de Antonio, a personal friend, and Eleanor Ward, owner of the Stable Gallery. As Warhol later recalled: "She took out her wallet and looked through the bill compartment and said, 'Andy, if you paint me this, I'll give you a show.'" She did, in the fall of 1962, after Warhol had produced a series of dollar bill paintings (A. Warhol, quoted in C. Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1983, p. 26). It was also the subject of money that would eventually cause Warhol to adopt his iconic silkscreen method in 1962. When he wanted to repeat the bills in his characteristic grid format he realized that cutting a stencil or carving an eraser, as he had done for his postage and trading stamps, would prove too tedious. Because reproducing a photograph of a dollar bill would have constituted forgery, Warhol had a screen made from a drawing of a bill that was much like the present work. He would resurrect the theme of money in the early 1980s with his silkscreened Dollar Signs.
The subject of money was clearly a difficult one for the artist. After a childhood of modest means, Warhol became obsessed with money, and that extended to its use as subject matter. Indeed, one of the characteristics that set Warhol apart from the previous generation of artists who wore their lean circumstances as a badge of honor was that Warhol embraced commerce. "[Warhol] made no secret of his hunger for lucre" (W. Koestenbaum, Andy Warhol, New York, 2001, p. 5), and "he did everything for money. His main goal was to learn how to do everything faster to make more money" (V. Bockris, The Life and Death of Andy Warhol, New York, 1989, p. 95). Heiner Bastian argues that it was the poverty of his childhood that provided much of the impetus that Warhol needed to push him towards his goal of becoming a successful artist, something that can be seen in drawings such as One Dollar: "What we also read in the majority of the early drawings is the psychopathology of a young artist turning to unfulfillable romantic notions in an attempt to escape the poverty of his childhood, his experience of financial misery and regulated constraints of purely practical artistic training. Warhol undoubtedly did escape some of these, but only to replace them with the artificiality of surface or the real proximity of emotionless, which were to permeate his life and work as though both were reflected in the same mirror" (H. Bastian, "Rituals of Unfulfillable Individuality-The Whereabouts of Emotions," Andy Warhol: Retrospective, exh. cat., Tate Modern, 2002, p. 13). This manifested itself in a series of works reproducing money, along with paintings of other iconic objects from his childhood, e.g. Campbell's Soup Cans and Coke bottles--a theme he returned to throughout his career in various guises, compositions, sizes and media.
Andy Warhol produced One Dollar as he stood on the precipice of an exciting time in the art world. Just a few short months after Warhol produced One Dollar, he adopted his photo-based silkscreen technique and its use would dominate his output for the rest of his career. He continued to make drawings throughout his career, but they were mostly simplified linear drawings which lack the detail and focus of this early example. Warhol was a consummate draftsman from his earliest work until the end of his career and drawings such as One Dollar are a high point of his graphic work. One Dollar not only pays homage to Warhol's past, but also acts as a dramatic precursor of the Pop age. It not only changed the visual aesthetics of art, but also altered much of the public's perception of art too, as Arthur C. Danto points "Wahol did not simply replicate grungy piece of commercial art. He made the distinction between a grungy piece of art and a piece of high art at once invisible and momentous. But that meant that he changed not so much the way we look at art, but the way art was understood. That meant that between 1959 and 1961, the seeds of a visual and indeed a cultural revolution were planted" (Arthur C. Danto, "Andy Warhhol's Before and After," quoted in B. M. Brgi (eds.), Andy Warhol The Early Sixties: Paintings and Drawings 1961-1964, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum Basel, 2010, p. 19).