The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

The Ad Series by Andy Warhol


Andrew Warhol (or Andrew Warhola as he was christened) was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1928. His parents were Carpatho-Rusyns who immigrated from what is now known as eastern Slovakia. Andy was the youngest of three sons. His father recognised his son’s artistic talents and saved enough money to pay for his college education. Warhol studied at the Carnegie Institute, and in 1949 graduated with a degree in Pictorial Design.

After graduating, Andy Warhol moved to New York to become a commercial illustrator. The drawings he made in the 1940s and 1950s were light-hearted and often fantastical. Many of them used a ‘blotted-line’ technique, a basic form of printmaking . The artist has bigger aspirations in mind . From a young age Warhol was infatuated with fame, fashion, celebrity and Hollywood. As a boy living in Pittsburgh he found escape from his ordinary working class life in popular teen magazines and by collecting autographs from film stars. Born into a poor family, he determinedly worked his way upwards into the high society he had always idolised as a child. Early on in his career he realised the potential to make money from art.

In 1949 when Warhol first moved to New York, the art editor of Glamour fashion magazine, Tina Fredericks, bought one of his drawings and commissioned a series of shoe illustrations. One commission led to another and Warhol was soon in high demand as an illustrator for prestigious clients including the Conde Nast organisation, the New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His involvement with the fashion world during this time reflects his fascination with New York’s glamorous celebrities, a subject that would be important in his later work.

Warhol understood the superficial nature of celebrity in American society. Images of public figures are created by marketing companies to make money, but in reality say little about the person behind the mask. Warhol succeeded in creating a powerful public image for himself – the Andy Warhol ‘brand’ – with his trademark straight blonde hair and dark glasses. He became a master at cultivating his own celebrity profile as his fame grew. He constantly documented his daily life through photography and film, an early version of today’s social media. 

Ads marked a return for Andy Warhol to central themes in his oeuvre, which included advertising and consumerism. In the series, Warhol presented each image as a noticeable

appropriation of a corporate logo and product envisioned within the frame of contemporary pop culture. The series is stylistically similar to previous works where Warhol furthered his interest in the world of business and art – or rather, what he called ‘business art.’ Curator Joseph D.

Ketner observed that in Ads, Warhol ‘scanned his past for Pop-styled images culled from newspapers and magazines, which seemed to represent poignant signs of current mass

culture and also issues of personal significance.’

The selection of images Warhol appropriated for his Ads series embodies some of the most powerful corporations in America, such as Mobilgas, Paramount Pictures, Disney, and Apple Macintosh. While others, such as Volkswagen, Chanel, and Blackglama, represent some of the best designs and marketing strategies in advertising history.

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

Lifesavers Ad by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol’s selection of the Life Saver’s advertisement to feature in the series demonstrates his ambition to present Pop Art as a mirror of society. By appropriating images taken from

magazines and newspapers, Warhol showed that functional and formal abstractions of signs were also potent with meaning. As he aspired his artwork to be a ‘statement of the symbols of the harsh, impersonal products and brash materialistic objects on which America is built today… The practical but impermanent symbols that sustain us today.’ The grid formation of the present work recalls his early career in illustration and adverting which was greatly affected by mass consumption. Here, the candy-color rendering and playful aspect of the composition runs parallel to his use of repetition and serialization of his silkscreen paintings from the 1960s. 

In 1959, the same year that the VW ‘Lemons’ advert is published, the Museum of Modern Art in New York honored the perfume Chanel no.5 for its innovative design by placing it in the museum’s permanent collection. Seeking ‘a woman’s perfume with a woman’s scent’, Coco Chanel conceived the fragrance in 1921. ‘A woman’s scent’, Chanel said, ‘should be as important as a woman’s dress. A woman should wear perfume wherever she would like

to be kissed.’ Notably, Chanel’s no. 5 transformed the alchemy of scent by composing the fragrance with over eighty scents with the inclusion of aldehydes 17 to create an entirely modern perfume that was rich, complex and abstract. As a name, no. 5 is an identification

number that makes sentimental names for the perfumes of the day seem instantly out of date. The name was given as it was the fifth sample presented to Chanel; a number thought to bring good luck by the couturier. Presented in a transparent bottle, the amber liquid becomes the focal point, while the vessel is considered pure with the clean lines of the no.5 bottle distinguished from the elaborate bottles of the 1920s; an assured minimalism that ensures its timelessness. By some accounts, the stopper, cut like a diamond, is inspired by the geometry of Plaçe Vendôme in Paris. Representing the formula for the ‘feminine eternal’ while resisting

the the whims of fashion and passages of time, Chanel’s no.5 became an icon of the 20th century, inspiring Andy Warhol to feature the work in his Ads series.

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

Warhol appropriated the image from the 1955 film Rebel without a Cause, featuring James Dean. Among the Ads series, the present work marks the artist’s return to the primary themes in his oeuvre, including icons of popular culture and stars of the silver screen. In particular, the work recalls some of most famous paintings that depicted the brooding figures of Elvis, James Dean, and Marlon Brando. Among all these portraits of Hollywood stars, Warhol revealed a fascination with gendered rebellion, sexual ambiguity, and a non-conformist view of the outlaw archetype. The artist’s selection of the image is not without a haunting sense of mortality, with the allusion to the actor’s premature death at the height of fame. Sharing the same narrative with his Marilyn series of portraits in the 1960s, Warhol struck upon the subject of fame and death viewed through the lens of mass culture. Here, James Dean appears twice in the image; posing against the wall and again as a spectral trace of silhouette, as though the soul has been separated from the body. The artwork is a Warholian momenti mori; the actor is an icon of the 20th century and remembrance of the fragility of life.

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

James Dean by Andy Warhol

In 1968, the Great Lakes Mink Association (GLMA), representing a consortium of mink ranchers in the United States sought a new advertising campaign that aimed to change public opinion

on the fur trade, following a mass of protestation against the fur trade. The ‘Blackglama’ brand and tagline ‘What becomes a Legend most?’ followed soon after. Featuring some of the

most high-profile celebrities of the time, and photographed by the immensely talented photographer, Richard Avedon, the Blackglama series has since become iconic in the history of

advertising. The source image for the present work derives from the first year of the campaign in 1968, portraying the legendary actress, Judy Garland. For Warhol, who was featured in the

pages of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Blackglama is a triumvirate of fame, glamour, and fashion.

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

The motif of Pegasus used by Mobilgas seems to have appealed to Warhol’s long standing fascination with iconography. Originating from ancient Greek mythology, Pegasus is rich in symbolism. Among the many tales of the divine winged stallion, Pegasus formed Hippocrene, the sacred spring of the muses. According to mythology in the Renaissance, Pegasus was a symbol of poetry and creator of a wellspring which poets came to draw inspiration. Perhaps most interesting to Warhol, Pegasus also signified fame. In the present work, the image of Pegasus has been reinterpreted as a secular icon incorporated into a Mobilgas logo.

Warhol appropriated the image from a 1940s advertisement, when Pegasus – the red horse in a moment of flight – appears at the forefront of the campaign, representing a potent symbol of

acceleration and stamina.

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

Mobil Ad by Andy Warhol

Following World War II, it was a difficult task to sell ‘the people’s car’ to Americans, who regarded the slow and strange looking automobile with disdain since its conception was formulated by Adolf Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany. Volkswagen’s Beetle campaign of 1959, however, is regarded as one of the most famous in advertising history. Designed by Helmut Krone and Julian Koenig, with the Dane Bernbach Agency, the advert changed the public’s perception of the car by revolutionizing the presentation of the product. By placing a silhouette of the car at a distance and surrounded by a sea of white space, the understatement of ‘Think Small’ was paradoxically bold and brave. On an empty background, the viewer is able to see the vehicle in a new light; as a unique design statement with character. The abbreviation of the name, from Volkswagen to ‘VW’, made the car sound cool, fresh and simple, while the clever copywriting enticed the reader by turning potential negative features into positive attributes. ‘Lemon’, the advert that followed soon after, played with people’s fear during a

period when American cars were notoriously faulty as standards in quality control standards were lacking. Here, in the image that Warhol appropriated for his Ads

series, the car represents one in fifty cars eliminated from assembly at the Volkswagen factory, as the text reads: ‘We pluck to lemons; you get the plums.’

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

Volkswagon by Andy Warhol from the ADs portfolio

Between 1942 and 1945, Walt Disney produced propaganda films for the U. S. Government. Using animation as a tool to build public morale and provide instructions to soldiers, the pictures were intended to increase support for the war. In 1942, The New Spirit

was made to encourage American citizens to pay income taxes. The cartoon, which features Donald Duck, offers a humorous story explaining how income taxes benefit the American war effort. The New Spirit proved so popular that it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 15th Academy Awards in 1943, and was followed with another short film that same year. Andy Warhol idolized Walt Disney (who started as an illustrator too, no less) as the consummate entrepreneur who created a successful commercial

art empire. Along with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck is one of the most popular of characters from Disney productions. Indeed, the intermingling of fantasy and reality in animation is at the

foundation of American popular culture, while the film is the perfect subject for Warhol’s composition, embodying cutting-edge innovation and American patriotism.

Toward the end of his career, Warhol was enthusiastic about computers and embraced the technology. He was introduced to the computer than none other than Steve Jobs, who brought a Macintosh computer to the 9th birthday party of Sean Lennon, son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. At first, Warhol and Keith Haring – who was also in attendance – watched as Jobs showed Sean how to work the machine. After a while, Warhol took his place in front of the Mac while Jobs explained how to use the mouse. After a while, Warhol used the pencil tool to draw, ‘Look! Keith!’ he exclaimed to Haring, ‘I drew a circle!’ The introduction of creating art with computers seemed to have impressed Warhol that several months later he purchased an Amiga 1000 computer in 1986. Using the ProPaint programmed, he began experimenting with various color variations in images that he captured. Asked what he liked most about doing art on the computer, Warhol stated that ‘I like it because it looks like my work.’

Ad, The Ad Series by Andy Warhol

Apple (Macintosh) Ad by Andy Warhol

By combining the consumer brands and advertising images with his selection of vibrant colors and distinctive off-registered line drawing, Warhol presented his images with slick surfaces and candy-coated renderings frozen in Technicolor.


View the complete Ads Portfolio here