One of the most instantly recognizable Pop icons, Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Can has achieved legendary status. By taking the image of a mass-produced item from contemporary culture, isolating it and expanding it on a heroic scale, then subjecting it to constant serial repetition, Warhol reflected back at American culture questions about the dominance of commodity culture. Moreover, in using the commercial process of silkscreen to render this seemingly banal subject, and mediating its production through a factory-based system, Warhol questioned the sacrosanct notion of artistic subjectivity as well. It was a double-punch whose effects are still being felt.
Upon the first public display of his soup cans at the Ferus Gallery in 1962, Warhol's provocation was immediately effective. Displaying paintings of thirty-two Campbell's Soup Cans, each in a different flavor but depicted in a uniform manner on 20 x 16 inch canvases, he garnered heated criticism and even outrage from a wide swath of critics and the public. Yet it was precisely this widespread ire that quickly earned him the mantle of the art world's most famous provocateur. The soup can therefore stands as the emblem for his own ascent into the consciousness of popular culture, which Warhol acknowledged by faithfully paying homage to the subject throughout his career.
The present painting portrays the famed soup can in a vibrant red paint that radiates with particular intensity. Floating on the black field of the canvas, the composition suggests a photographic negative of Warhol's celebrated image. Created on the identical scale as his infamous Ferus paintings, it pays homage to that breakthrough moment in his career. In screening the single color of red on the canvas, Warhol further reduces his iconic Pop image to an increasingly abstracted form, even approaching a Minimalist type of aesthetic. Although its status as a serialized image is essential, Warhol consistently employed subtle variations in his paintings, which belie their repetitive nature. The red on black composition exhibits such variations in its bright veil of paint, while the magnetic graphic power of the composition attests to Warhol's superlative skill as a commercial illustrator that launched his career.
Famously, when Warhol was asked about why he chose to paint Campbell's soup cans, he explained that it had personal significance to him as a consumer. In his dead-pan manner, he declared that he loved their soup so much that he ate it for lunch every day for twenty years. His immortalization of the Campbell's trademark has come to represent a turning point in the history of Pop art, with the result that the Campbell's soup can has become synonymous with Warhol himself.