Andy Warhol’s long-term obsession with money is well-documented, from his much-quoted philosophy that “…making money is art and working is art and being good in business is the best art,” (A. Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975, p. 92) to his detailed diary entries of the cost of each and every cab ride. His fascination with the dollar, and all it symbolized, reached its apogee with his Dollar Sign series, begun in 1981.
Long before the Dollar Sign series, the image of a dollar played a pivotal role in Warhol’s evolution as an artist. His first foray into depicting dollars was in the 1950s, when he drew a money tree. Then, in 1961, he did a limited series of master drawings of dollar bills, including the large, orange-hued One Dollar, an early precursor to his later series based on the monetary symbol.
The source for those dollar drawings was a photograph taken by Edward Wallowich, who also provided the photography for the Campbell’s Soup Cans and the Coca-Cola bottles. Warhol himself drew a connection between the Soup Cans and the Dollar Signs.
“I just paint things I always thought were beautiful, things you use every day and never think about. I’m working on soups and I’ve been doing some paintings of money. I just do it because I like it,” he said. (D. Bourdon, Warhol, Henry N. Abrams, New York, 1989, p. 90.)
There are several stories about the origin of the idea of portraying money. Warhol may have gotten it from the interior designer Muriel
Latow, who told him he should paint “Something people see every day like a Campbell’s Soup Can.” (Quoted in G. Indiana, Warhol and the Can that Sold the World, New York, 2010, p. 82.) It may also have come up during a conversation with Eleanor Ward, who ran the Stable Gallery. According to one anecdote, she flipped through her wallet and told Warhol that if he painted her a dollar, she would give him a show, which she did, in 1962 (A. Warhol, quoted in C. Ratcliff, Andy Warhol, New York, 1993, p. 26).
Whatever the actual source, Warhol’s initial use of the dollar as subject matter was a building block for much of his later work. Historically, it engendered the artist’s very first use of silkscreen as a technique. “I started [silk-screening] when I was printing money. I had to draw it, and it came out looking too much like a drawing, so I thought wouldn’t it be a great idea to have it printed. Somebody said you could just put it on silkscreens” (Glenn O’Brien interview with Andy Warhol, High Times, No. 24, August, 1977, p. 34). It also marked an early use of the grid to create serial images, exemplified by his seminal 200 One Dollar Bills, shown at the Stable Gallery in 1962.
Two decades later, Warhol’s Dollar Sign series was shown at the Castelli Gallery, and like his Soup Cans, seemed to proclaim a new era, the era of conspicuous consumption and capitalistic greed. Arguably, the Dollar Signs are among the most Warholian of the artist’s images. The series seamlessly synthesizes Warhol’s brilliant understanding of commerce and of art as a commodity with his expert graphic skills—including his draftsmanship and intense Pop palette.
The Triple Dollar Sign (1982) is both a pristine and rare example of the series, in that it shows three dollar signs instead of the usually singular image. In this sense it is situated among the most inconographic of Warhol’s serial imagery including his Jackies, Coca-Cola bottles, and Campbell’s Soup Cans. With its bright orange, blue and turquoise tints and loopy lines, taken from an original ink drawing, the silkscreened image is a perfect example of Warhol’s signature high-low aesthetic. As Warhol himself once famously remarked “I like money on the wall. Say you were going to buy a painting. I think you should take that money, tie it up and hang it on the wall. Then 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.)