Adman: Andy Warhol’s origins as a commercial artist and illustrator

Andy Warhol’s connection with brands began more than a decade before his iconic pop art images of Campbell’s soup and Coca-Cola. David Waller tells the story of Warhol’s beginnings in the advertising industry.

Featured image: Philip Pearlstein ‘Andy Warhol in New York City’ c1949 Philip Pearlstein papers. Archives of American Art. Smithsonian Institution

The advertising industry is a creative one. To create and communicate clear messages in a simple image or 30 second commercial, advertising agencies employ people with some of the best creative minds. No wonder some of the top writers and artists start out being employed by advertising agencies.

While some people would rather forget their time writing copy, or designing ad layouts, others are not afraid of this period in their past. One such person is controversial artist, Andy Warhol, whose early commercial artwork was clearly an influence to his later fine artwork.

Examples of some of his early commercial work are being exhibited at the Art Gallery of NSW in ‘Adman: Warhol Before Pop.’

The exhibition has over 300 objects, including drawings, photographs, shopfront window displays, LP record covers, magazine covers, and advertisements, from The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

Warhol is probably best known for his silk screens of Campbell Soup and Coca-Cola cans, iconic celebrities, and images as part of the pop art movement of the 1960s, but his connection to brands and advertising began more than ten years earlier.

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Exhibition installation view ‘Adman: Warhol before pop’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. All artworks from The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc/ARS

He moved to New York in 1949 to work in the commercial world after studying commercial art in Pittsburgh at the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Over the next decade he produced numerous works as a commercial artist and illustrator.

Many of his early works related to fashion, including drawings of shoes, purses, necklaces, and gloves. In the late 1950s he drew hundreds of shoe ads for I. Miller, which were published on Sundays in the New York Times. Some included captions distinctively written by his mother, Julia Warhola.

Even after he gained fame for his art, he continued producing commercial images, and even appeared in advertisements. When considering his pop art of the 1960s, there is definitely a continuous link with themes of brands, consumerism, fun, style, and the everyday mundane in both his commercial and fine art works. He eventually became his own brand.

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Exhibition installation view ‘Adman: Warhol before pop’ at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. All artworks from The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc/ARS

Andy Warhol is not the only famous person to get a start in advertising. Although this is not a comprehensive list, here are some other people who worked in the advertising industry:

  • Artists: Norman Rockwell, Haddon Sundblom, and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec,
  • Writers: Peter Carey, Mary Higgins Clark, Bryce Courtney, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Heller, James Patterson, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dr Seuss, Fay Weldon,
  • Broadcasters: Kenny Everett, John Safran, Chrissie Swan,
  • Directors: Terry Gilliam, John Hughes, Alan Parker,
  • Actors: Alec Guinness, Rick Moranis, Bob Newhart, and
  • Editors and publishers: Helen Gurley Brown, Hugh Hefner.

Can you think of any other famous people who started their career in advertising?

 

Dr David Waller is a senior lecturer at University of Technology, Sydney.

The exhibition ‘Adman: Warhol Before Pop’ is on until 28 May 2017.