Claes Oldenburg

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Claes Oldenburg born 1929
Photo offset print on paper
Support: 865 × 560 mm
Transferred from Tate Archive Poster Collection 2015


Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks is a print of a drawing of the large-scale outdoor sculpture of the same name produced in 1969 (Yale University, New Haven). It represents a side-elevation drawing of a giant retractable lipstick mounted on the chassis of a tank-like vehicle with caterpillar tracks. The chassis has been squared up for enlargement, with calculations added. The drawing reproduced in this print provided the basis for an abandoned heliogravure print in 1971, realised in 1972 as a six-colour lithograph produced in an edition of one hundred copies (published by Paul Bianchini, New York). This print, however, was produced in 1969 in a broadsheet print magazine published by architecture students at Yale celebrating the gift of the sculpture to the university (Novum Organum no.7, Special ‘Colossal Monument’ Issue, 15 May 1969). This particular copy, dated 1969, is unfolded and has been inscribed and signed by Oldenburg to the artist Richard Hamilton.

The print was conceived as a work in its own right and was included in the publication Oldenburg: Works in Edition (1971). A sculptor who moves between performance and graphic art, Oldenburg treats his work as a totality in which key themes and motifs interweave in a variety of media. Taken as a whole, his graphic works represent a number of themes that have structured his practice throughout his career (see, for example, System of Iconography – Plug, Mouse, Good Humor, Lipstick, Switches 1970–1, Tate P07096). These motifs range across media, from performance and sculpture to the graphic arts, and include a shifting sense of scale, size and location, as well as exchanging hard for soft and organic for machine-made materials. Oldenburg sees this activity not as a series of discrete and isolated pursuits, but as a totality through which he engages with and represents the reality that he encounters every day. As the historian Martin Friedman explained in 1975:

Oldenburg’s art is a totality. The themes, each manifested in different media, are intimately related. Detailed drawings of objects, hastily scrawled notes, fragments of poetry, cardboard models, muslin and vinyl soft sculptures, and the recent large industrially fabricated steel pieces are elements of a total view. His ‘performance pieces’ that continued into the mid-1960s and combined people, objects and environments are essential to this view.
(Friedman in Oldenburg: Six Themes, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1975, p.9.)

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks – and the larger body of graphic works of which it is an example – represents one piece within a constantly evolving oeuvre; a ‘total’ work that responds, in multiple media, to the variety and ephemerality of the everyday, material world. More than most of Oldenburg’s works, however, the sculpture depicted in this print engages directly with contemporary political concerns, above all the feminist movement, American foreign policy and the Vietnam War.

Further reading
Claes Oldenburg: Works in Edition, exhibition catalogue, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles 1971.
Richard H. Axsom and David Platzker, Printed Stuff: Prints, Posters, and Ephemera by Claes Oldenburg: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1997.

Andrew Wilson
November 2014

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