As we exist in an era where there is more competition, a mass of visual symbolism, and attention spans shorter than any before, there is so much we can learn from Warhol’s bold and beautiful illustrations.
Recently I had the absolute pleasure of visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition, Adman: Warhol Before Pop, at The Art Gallery of NSW. This exceptional collaboration between the gallery and the Warhol museum offers a rare and insightful look into the artist’s early work. If you’ve not yet checked it out, and you’ve got any passion for branding—do.
It resonated with me, not only because Warhol was a unique talent, but also because he made the unusual assertion of being a commercial artist from very early on in his career. In fact, he wore it on his sleeve.
Warhol gave his commercial art a passion and verve that showed a pride in its commercial purpose. Where some artists see commercialism as an unfortunate accompaniment of an artist’s life, Warhol embraced it; and by doing so, he made advertisements and window displays that are art in its truest sense.
Warhol also truly understood the visual power of branding. He acknowledged the beauty in products, from the designer bottles of Dior perfume, to the silhouette of department store shoes. He recognised that the products we wear, celebrate and use to personalise our own brand, are beautiful—and he treated them as such. Through his art, he highlighted the artistry of these commodities. It’s little wonder that the brands who utilised his illustrations carved out distinct and memorable images.
In terms of visual design, the lettering (contributed by his mother, Julia Warhola) and the illustrations had a powerful effect. They elevated the brands he was tasked with advertising, as iconic.
How can Warhol’s work apply to modern branding?
The value of understanding an artist like Warhol in the context of modern brand development is evident. He had a vision for branding that was ahead of his time, and as such, the brands who were fortunate enough to have commissioned his work have long benefitted from the richness it delivered.
As a brand strategist, embracing fine art and creativity when conceptualising a brand and its identity, is essential. Warhol reminds us that the ordinary can become extraordinary when given a true artistic treatment. Inspiration and an understanding of brand is key to being able to express it effectively.
Today, as we move more towards automated design platforms and a homogeneity in graphic design, we can deliver visual work more rapidly and cost-effectively than ever before—but it comes at a cost. And that cost is brand value.
“The strength of the identity, personality and meaning inherent in your brand is greatly devalued by arbitrary design.”
In 1987, Warhol boldly declared, “I was always a commercial artist.” Where others have viewed fine art as being the true artistic form, and commercial art as being lesser, Warhol’s willingness to embrace his commercial work as art was a game changer.
He recognised that through advertising, and the rise of mass production that accompanied his arrival in 1949 New York, a new space for artistry was born. In the shop fronts, press ads and even commercial Christmas cards he was commissioned to produce, he created bold illustrations; which carried with them an equally powerful brand message.
As we live in an era where there is more competition, a mass of visual symbolism, and attention spans shorter than any before, there is so much we can learn from Warhol’s bold and beautiful illustrations.
From the emotive allure of hand painted lettering, to the visual power of illustration over graphic design—if a business is willing to be bold and invest in artistry that stems from a clearly developed brand position, if businesses give to their brands the love, attention and cultivation of artistic talent that Dior, Tiffany & Co. and the like gave to a young Warhol, they too may feature as examples of cultural significance in years to come.