"I wanted to paint nothing. I was looking for something that was the essence of nothing, and that was it".
For a painting apparently about "nothing", Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans sent shockwaves through the art community and altered the direction of art history. Created in a flurry of inspiration in 1962, Warhol first exhibited the 32 canvasses in Irving Blum's Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. Lined up side-by-side on small shelves as though displayed in a shop, their appearance caused a sensation. The actor Dennis Hopper bought one for $100 and other members of the art and film scene were captivated by the show. To some, the paintings were obnoxious and deserving of derision. A neighboring gallery, in protest against Warhol’s presumed gall, offered real Campbell's Soup Cans for sale at 60 cents apiece. Blum bought back the five paintings he had already sold and purchased the entire set for $1000, paying Warhol, who was delighted with the price, in $100 installments.
After the Campbell's Soup Can installation at the Ferus Gallery, Warhol never forgot the visual effect of serial imagery. He was continually fascinated with Campbell's Soup Cans, making variations and experimenting with layouts. In the U.S., the artist had noted, the richest consumer buys the same things as the poorest—everybody is united through Campbell's Soup. Warhol claimed he ate Campbell's Soup every day for 20 years, and that alongside Cola-Cola it was the quintessential American product.
By the time Oyster Stew was produced in 1969 Warhol had been exploiting the potential of silkscreen printing for over 8 years. From a portfolio of ten, Oyster Stew is a print of one of the most unusual flavors, alongside Crème of Clam Chowder and Chicken Dumpling. Its semi-mechanical process allowed him to fulfill an ambition; to paint "like a machine". Wiping out any traces of painterly handiwork, silkscreen painting allowed for quick replication and works that resembled the marketed brand images that were such a new feature of American pop culture. The 1960s had seen advertisers using repetition to drum names into the public consciousness. Warhol quickly realized that in an art context repetition drained the works of meaning, accentuating their banality.
Warhol's emergence from poverty as an immigrant child to become one of the leading lights of bohemian New York society mimicked Pop Art's ambition to bring popular styles onto an equal plain with high art. His appropriation of the Soup Can image crystallized an American vision of prosperity and industrial fabrication, while at the same time using this familiar brand to reveal its excessive overabundance. Of all Warhol's works, Campbell's Soup Cans were among the most radical and groundbreaking and Oyster Stew, with its machinelike production, speaks confidently in its own deadpan way of life in 20th century America.
Warhol's Oyster Stew, 1969 is available to buy now on fineartmultiple—click here to find out more.