One of the major icons of Andy Warhol's Pop legacy, the Campbell's soup can would become an image that was virtually synonymous with Warhol himself. The Pop master was drawn to the ways that banal commodities such as soup cans Coca-Cola or Heinz ketchup bottles - with their infinite reproducibility and their appeal to consumer desire -- signified the larger character of postwar American society, where the individual as consumer reigned supreme. After having worked as a successful commercial illustrator in the 1950s, Warhol found himself at a major turning point in his career during the year of 1962, when he took up the subject of the Campbell's soup can. The drawing Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Campbell's Soup Can dates to that crucial and celebrated year in his career, which was marked by his breakthrough exhibition of thirty-two silkscreened paintings of Campbell's soup cans at the famed Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles.
Heinz Tomato Ketchup with Campbell's Soup Can is a masterful rendering of Warhol's signature soup can, seen in a somewhat unexpected light here, upturned in a virtual embrace with a Heinz ketchup bottle. There is a certain humor in this almost sexual coupling of these two tomato-based consumer products, yet it is clear that Warhol is drawn to the pure graphic force of this pair of commercial products, emphasizing in a deadpan manner the power of their visual branding, and carefully rendering their distinctive logos as important compositional elements. Here, Warhol creates a distinctly modern still-life that is resonant of the condition of the postwar consumerist social order. In addition to being a superb example of Warhol's drawing, this work is fascinating in the way it presents a different, unexpected view of the iconic Campbell's soup can.
This composition is based on a photo taken by Edward Wallowitch, a professional photographer with whom Warhol collaborated on a number of his most iconic subjects of the early sixties, including his Coca-Cola bottles and dollar bills. This was a working relationship which significantly presaged the later collaborations of the Factory. Using the commercial photographer's carefully staged shots as a starting point for his composition -- significantly choosing to work with a reproduction of his subjects rather than drawing them from life -- Warhol at times traced projections of Wallowitch's photos, exploring through his own hand a kind of mechanized process of drawing. Yet even while tracing these images, Warhol inevitably made his own signature alterations to his source images by carefully paring them down and editing them in his own distinct way. Here, as in many of his most celebrated Pop masterpieces, he has tightened the frame and has left the background almost blank, allowing the objects to float like icons on the surface of the page. The smooth graphite marks treat their subjects as pure surface, reflecting Pop Art's larger fascination with this theme. Although Warhol was a virtuoso of line, and even imbued his early works with an almost rococo flourish, in the present drawing one sharply senses that he is slowing down, attempting to purge his hand of personal expression and instill it with a more machine-like sensibility. Yet at the same time, the style of the draftsmanship is inimitably Warhol's own. In a certain sense, unlike his silkscreens, here we have a more intimate view of Warhol's hand at work as he contemplates one of his most celebrated subjects.