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The renowned, Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana are considered to be two of the most influential artists of the Pop Art period. Though their works are different representationally, they are able to amend the course of their mutual source of inspiration- American Popular culture- through the similarities and differences that they exhibit in their works. Warhol's Elvis I and II, and Indiana's The Demuth American Dream No.5 are addressed as two examples in this case. While Warhol takes a liberal stance towards his work in adding new dimensions to Pop Art, Indiana sets the roots of his work in the earlier Precisionist painters, such as Charles Demuth.
Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana have been credited with ridiculing and celebrating American middle class values. Their works abolish the distinction between popular and high art through their transient and provisional nature, and therefore by embracing these qualities they mirrored American society. Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana achieve the aspects of depersonalization, monotonous repetition of images in their works, through integrating popular culture ethos of mass production and commercialization.
Warhol nominates the Pop icon, Elvis Presley, as the focus of alteration for aesthetic elements in his work Elvis I and II. The celebrity is used by Warhol as a motif in the shape of a famous man that is repeated four times horizontally across his work. The figures possess variant light and dark aspects as part of their overall shape and composition which is due to effects caused by silk screening. Through the usage of the efficient technique, Andy Warhol reduces the personal touch that was a practice associated with predecessors of Pop Art- Abstract Expressionists. This act enabled the artist to integrate repetition and to add a commercial look and feel to the work. 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. The four Elvis figures have similarities and differences due to the constant displacement of the squeegee across the work, which in turn brought a different tone, hue of shading, and variant texture across the work. Warhol wanted to call these disparities the "mistakes," that he liked to keep in the painting to create an imbalanced aesthetic feature. The use of a bright background, which lacks any kind of perspective or depth, gives it a sense of continuum and infinity. The homogeneity aspect 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's in focus and of a famous person."The canvas on the right has a matte and semi-glossy finish, which is the result of the intermixing of two techniques. These techniques are spray painting and silk screening, each giving the work a flat, yet rough and somewhat reflective texture. The chromatics of the work is inspired from Warhol's involvement with the films he created at the time.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 treats the overall aesthetic elements of the work equally such as colour, texture, and composition. He approaches his work in a more defined and elemental manner compared to Warhol's. Though Indiana and Warhol both use bold, garish, and similarly looking colours, Indiana, however, integrates them differently. Indiana's composition and use of colour is well defined and bold, but 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 presents the painting with a tension between the chromatics, where he allocates the centre and focus of the five canvases to the figures, with the use of bright colours he grabs the attention of the spectator and, in contrast to this notion, he budgets the rest of the space in the painting to create an illusionary and fake perspective through the use of different hues of grey. The defined lines and bold colours have been achieved by the stenciling technique. Indiana employs numerous symmetrical and repetitive patterns, like the reoccurring motif of the number five, circles, pentagons, triangles, stars, and etc, to bring life to the aesthetic qualities of the work. These routine compositions presented across the painting tend to either bring attention to or drain the fame out of the Demuth's I Saw the Figure 5 In Gold; this in turn has brought Indiana's work a quality similar to the one in Warhol's in achieving his goal of monotonous features.
Through the observation of Warhol's work, one can find many aspects of the painting holding a deep meaning, symbolizing Elvis's life. Meaning to his work can be credited to the "mistakes" that he kept rather than fixed. One of the aspects the viewer can quickly identify in the work is the gradual fading of Elvis from left to right. Created by the silk screening technique, this progressive discoloring of the iconic figure may allude to his death and to the draining out of his popularity, and the backgrounds of the two canvases seem to symbolize life and death. The colourful canvas on the left symbolizes life because the colours used are bright and bold, similar to the lifestyle of Elvis himself who was submerged in his own wealth and fame. In contrast, the canvas on the right which has been spray painted to look monochrome in colour, symbolizes his death. The grey matter goes hand in hand with the fading out of Elvis. Moreover, the repetition of the four figures 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 infinity. Lastly, the background looks as if it's 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 effect on 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, one knows that there has to be a meaning behind the way it was created or the way it has been laid out. The most important aspect of this work is that he took the work of Demuth's well known I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold, and included it in his own vocabulary. By using an already established work - similar to how Warhol used an established celebrity - repetitively, he either attempted to drain its popularity and 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 situated in the titles themselves, the number five is of great importance in the work, this is shown by its serialization and that there are five canvases that create this masterpiece. Moreover, the painting illustrates the multidimensional properties of numbers 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.
For many years Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana pushed forward the boundries of Pop art to forge a highly individualistic way to pertain to the technological advancements of the time. They both engage themselves with the revolution of the techiniques that they were presented with through the influeneces of mass production and commercialization. The context of both works revolves around the, then Popular, culture of America which was extensively entertained with mass media and iconic figures in their society. Therefore, the two Pop artists incoporated aspects of monotony and repetition in their works, setting new ground rules for the art hierarchy in America by erasing the contrast between high and low art.
Andy Warhol, Elvis I and II, 1964
Silkscreen print, spray paint on silver canvas, silkscreen print, acrylic on canvas
164 x 82 inches
Robert Indiana, The Demuth American Dream No.5,1963
Oil on canvas
365.7 x 365.7 cm (Each of 5 panels)
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