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Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana are considered to be two of the most important artists of the Pop Art period. Though they belonged to the same period, their works were quite different in style. Yet, they both used some of the staples that defined the culture of the Pop Art era. The works which marked a turn in each of their careers were Warhol's Elvis I and II, and Indiana's The Demuth American Dream No. 5. Andy Warhol identified America's vacant icons with his painting, which depicted the infamous Elvis Presley, pulling a six gun. On the other hand, Indiana's, The Demuth American Dream No. 5 consists of five black panels which form a 12 by 12 foot cross, which bear a circle fronted by a repeated five. Moreover, while Warhol adds a new dimension to Pop Art, Indiana acknowledges a kinship with earlier precisionist painters, such as Charles Demuth, whom he pays homage to in his work. Both artists invest commonplace objects and familiar images with new meaning in the composition of their masterworks. Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana have been credited with ridiculing and celebrating American middle - class values. By erasing the distinction between popular and high culture their works mirrored American consumer society. Depersonalization, monotony and repetition became the hallmarks of their multi- faceted images, through the amusements with mass production and commercialization.
Upon keen observation of Warhol's work, one discovers aspects of the painting with a deep meaning and symbolizes Elvis' life. Meaning in his works is derived from the "mistakes" that he preferred to have in his paintings since he believed that nothing was perfect. Silk screening technique creates a gradual fading of Elvis from left to right which serves as an allusion to his decreasing popularity and death, whereas the two backgrounds symbolize life and death. Life has been represented by the vibrant canvas on the left, similar to the life of Elvis as he lavished himself with his fame and wealth. Conversely, the canvas on the right has been spray painted to attain a monochrome colour to symbolize death. Moreover, the repetition of the four magnifications of Elvis mimicked the effect of media saturation. The use of silk screen to create repetitions has itself become part of the meaning of the image because it had been created by the use of mass produced materials. The second aspect is the way the background of the painting looks as if it is never ending, giving it a sense and feel of continuum and boundlessness. Lastly, the background looks as if it is continuous due to the lack of a literal backdrop. Further, continuum is achieved through the lack of edge- tension. The top edge of the canvas cuts the head and the bottom cuts the feet of this magnified celebrity. This cutting off of the figure which looks as if it has been cut and pasted onto the canvas, gives the painting a collage- like appearance. By cutting and pasting the image onto the canvas, one can see that Warhol looked for the fasted and the most efficient way to create a sequence of Elvis.
Similar to Warhol's work, when looking at Indiana's The Demuth American Dream No. 5 the layout is the most significant hallmark. The use of Demuth's well known I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold in his own context is the most important aspect of the painting. By using an already established work - similar to how Warhol used an established celebrity - repetitively, he either attempted to drain its popularity or tried to reinstate a forgotten work. By using a preexisting work, Indiana attempts the "copy and pasting" method of Warhol to efficiently create five identical works. By creating identical canvases, Indiana saved time from having to give the work an individuality. As suggested by the title, the number five plays an important role in the work and is portrayed through serialization and the use of five canvases. Moreover, the painting illustrates the multidimensional properties of number in an aesthetic context. With its visual echoes of the number five- a series of "fives" constant in design, yet diminishing in size as they recede inward, and enlarging outward almost past the picture plane- the painting seems to penetrate mathematical space. Indiana's number five strains and pulls, receding and projecting itself again onto the canvas, its original movement in time transformed into visual tensions, caught within the warring pressure lines of darkness and lamplight, a golden object held suspended on the red fires of sound. The visual power of Demuth's original image and Indiana's transposition of it into what might be called its "native" visual medium is indeed so strong that it still has the force to inspire artists of an entire new generation. Moreover, there are also religious symbols that go hand in hand with the importance of the number five. Indiana was closely affiliated with religion, and he tried to incorporate this aspect into his works. The five panels form into the shape of a Greek cross. The four panels which have the words "err", "die", "eat", and "hug," are placed surrounding the core, which is the fifth panel. The cross symbolizes the four elements of the universe - fire, water, earth, and wind. These four elements can take the form of the four outer panels of Indiana's layout. Further, the four words he uses on each panel - err, die, eat and hug - come to make up one form - the form of the American Dream. The use of words and letters in his painting had been inspired by stencils, because he was amused with how it makes the image appear as if it had been printed. Thus, through the enthusiasm created by the effects of the stencil which was used as an efficient means of production, Indiana efficiently creates a sequenced masterpiece.
In Elvis I and II the only area where Warhol makes use of aesthetic elements is in the great Pop icon, Elvis Presley. The celebrity is used by Warhol as a distinctive feature in the shape of a famous man that is repeated four times horizontally across his work. His face and clothes have been shaded, though not purposefully. Rather he made use of the efficient mechanics and silk screen, which randomly add light and dark aspects to the shape and the overall composition of the figures. Through the usage of silk screen, Andy Warhol removed all traces of the artists "hand" in the production of his paintings, which was a practice associated with the Abstract Expressionists, who were the predecessors of Pop Art. The elimination of hand reduces the personal touch as it can be sensed from the commercial look and ambience of the painting. To aid in withdrawing the artists hand, Warhol had an array of assistants who produced his silk screen multiples, following his directions to make different versions and variations. This exercise which had its roots in the Dada movement brought new dimensions to Pop art, but with a different twist- this time the artist himself used technologically adopted techniques like silk screening. Each of the four Elvis figures in his Elvis I and II look different, because of the way the squeegee was used in the silk screening technique. During the process, the squeegee was placed at a different angle, direction, and even variant force to create a different tone or hue of shading. This process creates variant textures across the canvas through the pressure that is caused by the squeegee; or as Warhol wanted to call them, "mistakes," that he liked to have in the painting to create and imbalanced aesthetic feature. The background of the image, which is bright blue on the left hand canvas, has no light created by shading; the background does not depict a typical landscape nor does it present any kind of perspective to create depth. The use of a bright background gives it a sense of continuum and infinity. The homogeneity of the two backgrounds in the work, in terms of colour and composition, brings a great deal of attention to the focus of the painting, namely the Elvis figures; this addresses Warhol's ideology about a good painting which is "one that is in focus and of a famous person." Moreover, the bright usage of colour adds onto the unrealistic and depersonalized image. The background of the canvas on the right is silver, which has been brought to life by the spray painting technique; he has created an almost all over matte and semi-glossy finish in terms of the texture of the background, through the silk screening technique. Further, this finish gives the work a flat, yet rough, and semi - reflective texture. The colour used was inspired and imitated from the layout and background of the films that he was also involved with. Thus, through the amusements with mass production and silk screening, Andy Warhol gives new meanings to the aesthetic elements - colour, texture and light - which enable Warhol to achieve his goal of monotonous repetition, in his Elvis I and II.
Indiana applies and integrates aesthetic elements such as colour, texture, and composition to almost all parts of the work. In contrast to Warhol's integration of colour, Indiana takes a more rigid and defined approach to the colouring of his work. The colours that Robert Indiana uses are bold and garish - similar looking to those of Warhol, but different in their nature. Whereas Indiana's composition and use of colour is well defined and bold, Warhol's colours merge into the shading created by the silk screen. Indiana uses different tones of colours to create various kinds of space for different purposes, although this does not affect the matte and two dimensional aesthetic aspects of the composition he presents in the painting. He allocates the centre and focus of the five canvases to the figures which use bright colours to grab the attention of the spectator; these spaces can be interpreted as positive spaces. In contrast to this notion, he budgets the rest of the space in the painting to create an illusionary and fake perspective through use of different hues of grey, which overall can be thought of as negative spaces. The defined lines and bold colours have been achieved by the stenciling technique. Moreover, He uses a high keyed yellow to force the eye to shift from positive to negative space, further emphasizing the centrality of the overall composition. Indiana employs numerous symmetrical and repetitive patterns, like the reoccurring motif of the number five, circles, pentagons, triangles and stars just to name a few, in order to bring life to the aesthetical qualities of the work. These routine compositions presented across the painting tend to either bring attention to or drain the fame of the Demuth's I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold. To compare both works, they share similar attitudes in disregarding the depth of the image to aid in its depersonalization.
Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana are two icons of the Pop Art era who have left a mark in the development of art; their effects of the conceptions of art and celebrities continue to be felt to this day. Their works were not only shaped by, but also reshaped, popular culture by erasing the distinctions between fine art and popular culture. Both the artists have recognized the elements of an urban mass society which was heavily influenced by symbols, images, the mass media and mass production in their works. Thus, throughout both works, the artists cleverly demonstrate repetition through using mechanical means of production.