Nothing was more important to Andy Warhol than the pursuit of money and his Dollar Sign series from 1981 is ultimate manifestation of his love affair with the almighty dollar. Warhol continued his fascination with the rich visual possibilities the cultural icons and emblems of the day offered, including Hollywood stars Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe and mass-market consumables like Campbell's Soup cans. Here, Warhol turned a ubiquitous symbol in modern society into a monumentally stunning work, which captures both the age and the character of the artist.
Dollar Sign is a superb example of Warhol's unique visual style, with its luxurious palette of magenta, deep red and bright electric blue with a rich layer of gold. In this particularly dynamic version of his iconic motif, we can see traces of Warhol's own original drawings, magnified up to a huge scale. He highlights the clean outlines and the individualized hatching, rendering them highly visible, adding to the visual impact of the work as a whole.
Ironically, considering the endemic nature of the dollar, Warhol found he was unable to find an image of the dollar sign that had quite the impact he needed. He resorted to the skill that supported him during the early years of his career, his draftsmanship. He drew dollar after dollar sign, some straight, some slanting, some thick, some thin, some more Pop, some more staid. The fact that the source image was one that Warhol created himself marks his Dollar Sign paintings out as a rarity within his body of work. It is the subject rather than the actual image of money that concerns Warhol, a clever and revolutionary return to his earlier works of dollar bills in which he essentially printed his own money.
Warhol began exploring money-orientated imagery as a means of exposing art as a commodity as early as the 1950s when he created a drawing of money growing on a tree. A decade later, he continued exploring this theme with a small series of drawings of depicting dollar bills. The growing connection between money and art intrigued Warhol; they both had a universal power to stimulate the imagination and evoke desire. He could exchange his artistic ideas for cash, a notion that fascinated him. Putting the dollar sign on a canvas, the artwork becomes a Warholian currency in its own right. Money, as purchasing power, is what enables consumption, but in a delicious twist, Warhol also recognized the intrinsic value of money and art. "I like money on the wall," he once wrote, "Say you were going to buy apainting. I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. The when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall" (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, New York, 1975, p.134).
Warhol stated, "I'm for Mechanical art. When I took up silk screening, it was to more fully exploit the preconceived image through the commercial techniques of multiple reproduction" (quoted in I'll be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews, New York, 2004, p.8-9). Notwithstanding his mechanical process of silkscreening, in Dollar Sign, he masterfully conveys his artistic impression of the universal symbol. Indeed, in his mind he envisioned endless possibilities and variations in shape, color, texture and composition. Yet, this painting is unique with its warm, candy-colored pink background reflecting the secondary, more sketch-like impressions, which create a double image as if viewed through a lens. In this way the depth of the image, the solidity of its components and the texture of inks are enhanced on the surface of the canvas. This process infuses the subject with vitality and prominence, as it glows and shines before our eyes.
Dollar Sign is detailed, superbly executed, aesthetically pleasing. The dollar sign has been a symbol of the United States' independence and prosperity since 1784 when it first appeared in a memorandum by Thomas Jefferson. Ironically, Warhol produced Dollar Sign during a period of intense economic uncertainty in the United States. The Iranian Revolution had sharply increased the price of oil around the world, causing the 1979 energy crisis. In addition, tighter monetary policy in the United States used to control inflation led to recession, which began in July 1981 and lasted for over a year and a half. During these troubled times the dollar sign was a combination of the promise of the American dream but also a reminder of its inherent dangers.
In Dollar Sign Warhol seizes upon one of the most recognizable symbols in the world and transform it into something uniquely Warholian. He was as interested in the graphic design as he was in the cultural and personal connotations of this signifier. This profound work testifies to Warhol's unlimited talent, artistic vision and creative energy. The diversity of Warhol's money-themed works reflects the omnipresence of the American graphic device, and Dollar Sign is an exemplary large-scale manifestation of the artist's fascination with this iconic symbol.