Andy Warhol, born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, was formerly trained as a commercial illustrator which was grounded in Advertising. Deriving from the 1960s, his illustrations and representations of contemporary culture formed the visual arts movement, Pop Art. He used painting, printmaking, sculpture and film to comment on the culture’s relationship to mass media.
Printmaking was perhaps the most compelling way to exemplify his purposes of creating art or allowing society to become the art. Through repetition, he could create a series, one image transforming into a narrative and he could manipulate the images to change each time. Media controlled the culture’s consumers, telling people what to think and when to think it, as it still does today, more than fifty years later.
His archetypal printed images of American icons like the Campbell Soup Can, Brillo Boxes, and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley characterized not only what was already in the newspapers, television and radio programs but they portrayed what the consumers of this time period were consumed in, the objects and people that mark the time period they were living in. His entire oeuvre is an overarching question of “what is Art and who makes that decision?”
What does any of this have to do with cows? In 1966, art dealer and friend of Warhol, Ivan Karp said: “The only thing that no one deals with now these days is pastorals. My favorite subject is cows.” In 1966, Warhol silk screened this cow, twice, to actual size on a rectangular piece of wallpaper which was first exhibited at the famous Leo Castelli Gallery, in New York. He was removing the cow from its original landscape and placing it into the gallery, again imposing that art and life are synonymous. Some critics have noted that this work commented on the treatment of cows in 19th century landscape painting or American folk art, another theory could be that he was creating another American emblem. The cow as a symbol of nourishment, economic independence, nostalgia, earth and domesticity.
He has used this print of the cow in multiple installations from full wallpapered rooms to a singular printed cow, printed in various palettes. This silk screen of two cows is printed in three layers. The first layer is a dark steel blue; the next layer is an Indian red, silhouetting the shape of the cows head, finally black is settled on surface to prescribe detail to the facial features. The artist gave this wallpaper to the Cooper-Hewitt as a gift and was exhibited here in 2004, which exhibited wallpapers designed by artists. This piece not only typifies Warhol, Pop Art and the process of silk screening but it depicts all of American culture.