Ale Cans is the only print completed by Johns in 1964 and is among the most celebrated of his works in the print medium. Again relying on an earlier work, Johns presents the viewer with a visual quote from his painted bronze sculpture Ale Cans of 1960.
Ale Cans fits historically into the tradition of the Still Life in Western painting. The meaning of the obviously symbolic elements of these earlier still lifes is not so immediately apparent in Johns. However, once the artist's own personal experience is brought into play elements of a deeper understanding emerge. The raising of the mundane object to the status of sculpture can clearly be compared to the ready-mades of Marcel Duchamp who elevated the ordinary to the extraordinary.
When taken in its contemporary context and on a more direct level, Ale Cans can also be seen as a major Pop image, prefiguring in its repeated imagery the later repetitious patterning of Johns' later work, and defining for the viewer another element of his printmaking language.