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Produced 2 years before his death in 1985, Warhol’s Ads series epitomise Pop Art: depicting the key emblems of American consumer culture. Commissioned by Feldman Fine Arts, the suite is comprised of 10 limited edition screen prints on Lennox Museum Board. It includes works titledApple, Blackglama (Judy Garland), Chanel, Life Savers, Mobilgas, Paramount, Rebel Without a Cause (James Dean), The New Spirit (Donald Duck), Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan) and Volkswagen. In many ways this highly collectible series epitomises Warhol. A series of images depicting the icons of American consumer culture, celebrated in vivid technicolour, this is pure Pop Art.
The Ads portfolio is an acclaimed series and a catalogue of Warhol's interests across his career. Its subjects cover film, celebrity, glamour, fashion, television and advertising. By turning mass media imagery into art, Warhol elevated the everyday, celebrating the democratisation of popular consumer culture. As the artist himself once said, “what's great about this country is America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too.”
The Ads portfolio represents the artist's early career inspirations as well as the stylistic motifs that characterised his late period works. Warhol moved from Pittsburgh to New York in 1949 and became a successful commercial illustrator working for the likes of Tiffany, Vogue and Colombia Records. These early illustrations demonstrate the Warhol’s skill as a draughtsman and his formative printmaking process. The artist achieved the signature blotted line that appeared in these delicate drawings by transferring an ink illustration onto a separate piece of paper. This monoprint technique was an early exploration into the process of image reproduction that came to characterise Warhol's practice.
Works such as Life Savers and The New Spirit (Donald Duck) contain an element of nostalgia. Such pieces appropriate the advertisements of 1950s and 1960s America, referring to the era that saw the artist's rise to fame and the advertisements that fascinated him. Apple demonstrates the artist’s remarkable foresight. Warhol drew the company's logo just one year after Macintosh was launched. The Ads portfolio reveals the artist's ability to identify and memorialise the icons of 20th century popular culture. This body of work also presents a very contemporary idea that is still timely and relevant as each subject, from film stars to American candy, is presented as products of mass consumption.
In Warhol's later works he returns to the subjects that preoccupied his early career while also exploring a freer stylistic approach. This can be seen in the gestural lines used to delineate his subjects in the Ads portfolio. There is a looseness to the series that departs from the mechanised aesthetic of early works, such as the Campbell's Soup series. The Ads portfolio is a riot of rich, luminous colour, achieved by multiple screens and a layering of paint. For example, the artist used 17 colours and 12 screens in Blackglama (Judy Garland) while Life Savers was created using 19 colours and 14 screens.
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