Andy Warhol’s print Indian Head Nickel (F. & S. II. 385) is from his Cowboys And Indians series (1986) that forms part of a set of 10 screen prints. The series depicts archetypal figures and objects that capture America’s romanticised vision of the American West in popular culture, as it is depicted in literature, film, and television. In this print, Warhol shows a famous and rare five cent coin with the image of a Native American man on the facing side.
As the coin does not represent any specific individual but rather a stereotypical image of a traditional Native American figure, Warhol deliberately plays into popular interpretations of the American West to create an ironic political commentary. In using the method of screen printing to create the series, essentially mass-producing the imagery to be widely distributed, Warhol reflects the way in which this image on the five cent coin would too have been widely distributed, thus shaping public perception on Native American culture.
In contrast to other prints in the series, this image is rendered in grey and silver hues, more realistically replicating the five cent coin, and Warhol uses white hand-drawn lines to contour the image. Indian Head Nickel (F. & S. II. 383) is also set in opposition to prints in the series that show portraits of famous actors from Western movies and well-known ‘heroic’ American figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Annie Oakley. By exposing the paradox between fame and anonymity in the popular narrative of the American West, Warhol seeks to unpack the concept of the classic American icon in mass culture.