Produced at a time when Warhol was transitioning from creating graphic work for advertising to fine art, his series on soup cans is a reaction to this early career in advertising and his compulsion to manipulate the viewers’ familiar associations with the mundane into something altogether revolutionary.
1. Comic books, not cans, was Warhol’s original idea for the series
Warhol’s initial breakthrough idea was a series of paintings inspired by comic books, an aesthetic that was already being practiced by Lichtenstein. Looking for a new idea, Warhol turned to his friend and advisor Muriel Latow who he was paying for consultation. During this exchange she offered him another suggestion, free of charge – that he paint Campbell’s soup cans.
2. Tomato soup was the first flavour he ever worked on
Tomato was one of the original varieties Campbell’s produced and one of their best-selling products. For an artist interested in commercialism and consumerism, the subject that he translated into Tomato Soup was moulded perfectly to his interests.
3. Despite mimicking mass production, Warhol’s painting process was painstaking
Warhol’s first series of Campbell’s soup works were paintings based on crude prints of the can found on company mailing envelopes, not reproduction photographs. He projected these images in enlarged format onto the canvas, drew the outlines and then coloured them in with paint. Though he would later go on to screen print these images in massive quantities, the original and old-fashioned method used to serially depict commercial objects was, of course, ironic.
4. The original exhibition mimicked a shelf at a supermarket – but only coincidentally
The series of 32 painted cans, originally exhibited at Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, depicted all the soups offered by the brand, from Vegetable Made with Beef Stock to Chicken ‘N Dumplings and everywhere in between. For the exhibition the paintings were organised into a straight line and supported by shelves which the curator, Irving Blum, originally used to solve his struggle to make them appear level. Yet the shelves were later imbued with another meaning: to recall the supermarket and the commercial nature of the works.
5. Warhol named his Campbell’s soup cans as his favourite works
Warhol claimed that the subject had a personal significance to him, particularly as a consumer. Claiming that he ate the same thing every day, the soup was a crucial part of his diet. While most people dismiss this statement, as Warhol was a committed story fabricator, and was better known to eat at fabulous places surrounded by his glamourous circle of dedicated followers and friends. However, his dedication and love for the soup can is undeniable.