Andy Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle (1976) prints effectively bring contemporary politics to the classical, allegorical still-life. Rather than reproducing the graphic symbol—emblem of Communism—that initially caught his eye, he conceived the idea for a topical still-life portfolio and asked his assistant to create reference photographs of the actual objects.
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Presented as still life studies, Warhol’s Hammer and Sickle portfolios appropriate this communist symbol through mass production methods. The subject stems from a visit to Italy in the 1970s where Warhol was exposed to urban graffiti, much of which featured the Communist image of the hammer and sickle. The image had been reproduced in this way over and over and Warhol decided to use it too, appropriating it to create mass-produced imagery.
Warhol worked by sourcing books depicting the symbol, which were flat in appearance, and developed the concept of producing an image that more closely resembled a still life with tools brought from a hardware shop. Warhol arranged the tools into various positions and his then assistant, Ronnie Cuttrone photographed them.
"To Andy, they were an extension of the classic still life. For years I had been photographing still lifes for Andy… he loved to experiment and update classical themes. For him, it was the best part of making art.” - Ronnie Cutrone.
Hammer And Sickle (F. & S. II.64) © Andy Warhol 1977
The hammer and sickle is the quintessential communist symbol. Representing proletariat solidarity, the symbol was first adopted during the Russian Revolution. With the hammer representing the workers and the sickle representing the peasants, this is one of the most ubiquitous political symbols in modern history. Indeed, it might seem strange that Warhol - the King of Pop and champion of consumerism - should choose to depict the symbol of communism. However, Warhol's interest lay primarily in the nature of mass media and collective visual memory. There was perhaps no symbol more fitting of Warhol's attention than the hammer and sickle, hence this extensive foray into the Soviet motif.
Campbell's Soup I (complete set) © Andy Warhol 1968
Black Lenin (F. & S. II.402) © Andy Warhol 1987
Hammer And Sickle (F. & S. II.63) © Andy Warhol 1977
Hammer And Sickle (F. & S. II.61) © Andy Warhol 1977
Red Lenin (F. & S. II.403) © Andy Warhol 1987
Hammer And Sickle (F. & S. II.62) © Andy Warhol 1977
Image © WikiArt / Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge © El Lissitzky 1919
Image © MoMA / Hammer And Sickle © Andy Warhol 1976
Image © Phaidon / Hammer And Sickle © Andy Warhol 1976