Trash Cans consists of four identical black and white photographs of a metal mesh pavement bin, which have been stitched together with white thread into a two by two grid. Excess thread is left trailing at the joins, giving the piece a three-dimensional quality. In the photograph the trash can is positioned on a sidewalk; the flagstone on which it sits is stained with a dark liquid that has run from the bottom of the bin. The back bumper of a car on the adjacent road is visible in the top left of the frame. Various horizontal lines structure the image: the edge of the sidewalk near the centre, a road marking towards the top, and (less evenly) scuff marks on the road’s tarmac. These are offset by oblique vertical lines: the rear of the car, the edges and seam of the bin, and the indentation between two flagstones.
Trash Cans is one of a number of stitched photograph works by Warhol in the ARTIST ROOMS collection. Between 1982 and 1987 Warhol made over five hundred stitched photographs, as well as an edition of 120 smaller sewn works that were produced for Parkett magazine in 1987. Each of these works consists of several identical photographic prints (four, six, nine or twelve) that were sewn together using a machine. Almost all of the sewing for these works was carried out by Warhol’s assistant Michele Loud, a former fashion student. According to art historian William Ganis, Warhol ‘appropriated the stitched photograph concept from his friend, studio assistant, and traveling companion, Christopher Makos’ (Ganis 2004, p.23). Makos had been sewing together his own photographs since 1976. In 1982 Warhol purchased a Bernina sewing machine and Makos recruited Loud, who was a friend of his, to work on these stitched pieces.
Warhol acquired a Minox 35EL camera in 1976 and for the next twelve years, utilising a range of 35 mm cameras, took photographs almost every day. According to the writer Bob Colacello, who edited Warhol’s Interview magazine in the 1970s and 1980s, the artist ‘shot at least one roll of Kodak Plus-X or higher speed TRI-X black and white film every day. (Colour, he said, was “too expensive”.) At 36 frames per roll, it added up to over 13,000 images a year, and over 150,000 images in the 12 years between 1976 and 1987’ (Colacello 1992, p.16).
Warhol’s stitched photographs depict a wide range of subjects including signs, objects, celebrities, nude models and buildings. Trash Cans is one of many that focus on everyday and ordinary objects and can be related to some of Warhol’s best-known pop works, in which common objects and consumer goods (for example Brillo boxes, Coca-Cola bottles, and Campbell’s soup cans) are isolated from their everyday context so as to foreground their individual aesthetic value. Many of Warhol’s pop works are also composed of repetitious images, for example his screenprints in which identical images are repeated numerous times across a canvas, such as Marilyn Diptych 1962 (Tate T03093). It is thus useful to compare Trash Cans with Warhol’s screenprints featuring multiple images of Campbell’s soup cans – especially given the similarities between the shapes of the different receptacles.
The multiple reproduction of the photographs serves to draw attention to the image’s composition and to its patterning of patches of light and shade. Ganis has reflected on the series of stitched works as a whole:
these photographs level all subjects, even those containing language, to formally dynamic lines and areas of light and dark. In these works, the viewer is faced with a ‘truth’ that photographs are formal objects beyond being visual records that contain legible meaning.
(Ganis 2004, p.22.)
Bob Colacello, ‘Paparazziism: Or How Andy Warhol Became a Real Photographer’, in Karl Steinorth and Thomas Buchsteiner (eds.), Andy Warhol: Social Disease Photographs ’76–’79, Tübingen 1992.
William V. Ganis, Andy Warhol’s Serial Photography, Cambridge 2004.
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.