Recently I attended the opening of Andy Warhol-From A to B and Back Again at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is a phenomenal exhibit of the life and times of Warhol and his vast contribution to the world of art and design.

For me having spent my life as a young artist and a professional career in design and branding, I found this exhibit incredibly inspirational. I also learned and saw a few new things about Warhol, I didn’t realize that he actually worked as a young professional in advertising, as a “commercial illustrator’. Ultimately, much of those early years and interests profoundly influenced his fine art work and that fine art work has in turn influenced the commercial world we all live in today. His use of color, composition, print medium and pop culture, made a lasting imprint on the world of design, advertising and our overall visual language!

A bit of history, after graduating from art school with a degree in pictorial design, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a “commercial artist”, at which time he dropped the final “a” in Warhola. Today he would be called a “graphic designer”. In 1960, Warhol turned his attention to the pop art movement, which began in Britain in the mid-1950s. Everyday life inspired pop artists, and their source material became mass-produced products (brands) and commercial artifacts of daily life; commercial products entered into the highly valued fine art space.

In 1961, Warhol created his first pop paintings, which were based on comics and ads. Warhol’s 1961 Coca-Cola [2] is a pivotal piece in his career, evidence that his transition from hand-painted works to silkscreens did not happen suddenly. Andy Warhol famously appropriated familiar images from consumer culture and mass media, among them celebrity and tabloid news photographs, comic strips, and, in this work, the widely consumed canned soup made by the Campbell’s Soup Company. When he first exhibited Campbell’s Soup Cans in 1962, the canvases were displayed together on shelves, like products in a grocery aisle. At the time, Campbell’s sold 32 soup varieties; each one of Warhol’s 32 canvases corresponds to a different flavor. Though Campbell’s Soup Cans resembles the mass-produced, printed advertisements by which Warhol was inspired, its canvases are hand-painted, and the fleur de lys pattern ringing each can’s bottom edge is hand-stamped. Warhol mimicked the repetition and uniformity of advertising by carefully reproducing the same image across each individual canvas. He varied only the label on the front of each can, distinguishing them by their variety. Warhol said of Campbell’s soup, “I used to drink it. I used to have the same lunch every day, for 20 years, I guess, the same thing over and over again.”

Towards the end of 1962, shortly after he completed Campbell’s Soup Cans, Warhol turned to the photo- silkscreen process. A printmaking technique originally invented for commercial use, it would become his signature medium and link his art-making methods more closely to those of advertisements. “I don’t think art should be only for the select few,” he claimed, “I think it should be for the mass of the American people.”

In 1963 Warhol first began making box sculptures. Invoking a factory assembly line and enlisting help from his studio assistants at the Silver Factory, he created hundreds of replicas of large supermarket product boxes—including Brillo BoxesHeinz BoxesDel Monte Boxes, and more. The finished sculptures were nearly indistinguishable from their cardboard supermarket counterparts, single packing cartons. The Brillo Boxes were first exhibited in 1964 at the Stable Gallery in New York where they were tightly packed and piled high, recalling a grocery warehouse.

Warhol wrote in THE Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again),

"Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

I like that quote and it is why I love the type of design that we focus on. The design we produce is not just design for design sake, but design that sells a product, a service or a strategy. It’s about the right balance of design and business working hand in hand, “good design means good business”!

Sources; The Warhol: Museum, MoMA Learning