Andy Warhol (1928–1987), one of the most prolific artists of his generation, was a pioneer of American Pop art and arguably became its most important protagonist. He was fascinated by ideas of abundance and the rise in consumer culture and mass production. Many of his most acclaimed works use imagery from pre-existing commercial sources – product packaging and photographs reproduced in the media – that were immediately identifiable to the viewer.
Warhol’s early works included large canvases of repeated dollar bills, Coca-Cola bottles and Campbell’s soup cans that alluded to the boom in consumerism. He began to use silk-screening in 1962, a technique that allowed him to repeat motifs on a large scale and mimicked commercial methods of mass production. By doing so the objects he chose to depict became increasingly banal and depersonalised.
Intrigued by the cult of celebrity, Warhol produced a number of portraits of iconic figures from the worlds of film, music and art. These portraits would often come from pre-existing publicity photographs and were also created using his mechanised method of silk-screening. The brightly coloured images were produced over and over again, a further comment upon the consumption and consumerism that had come to define contemporary American life.
Warhol also produced works that depicted disaster and death, using press photographs, to explore the mass media’s compulsive fascination with tragedy. However, his depiction of death was not always explicit. In a number of works he simply used images which alluded to it, such as in the Electric Chair series, as a comment on the media’s ability to create morbid curiosity.
The Cow Wallpaper was first used by Warhol in an installation at the Leo Castelli Gallery, New York in 1966. It was created by silk-screening a picture of a cow’s head found in an agricultural magazine.