"Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan)" From Ads, 1985 by Andy Warhol
Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan) From Ads, 1985; Screenprint in colors on Lenox Museum Board; Signed Andy Warhol and numbered 190/190 in pencil lower right; Published by Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., NY; Size - Sheet 38" x 38", Frame 43 1/2" x 43 1/2"; Framed floated on a white mat, white wood exterior frame, and plexiglass; Catalog Raisonne: Feldman/Schellmann: II.356.
"The neatest Christmas gift of all!
You can twist it... You can twirl it... You can bend it... You can curl it... The new revolutionary collar on Van Heusen Century shirts won't wrinkle... ever!"
Ronald Reagan was a conservative American politician who served as the 40th President of the United States; he was elected for two terms from 1981 to 1989. Prior to his presidency, he served as the 33rd Governor of California from 1967 to 1975, following a career as an actor and was also the President of the Screen Actors Guild.
Ronald Reagan, while traveling with the Chicago Cubs and acting as their radio announcer in California, took a screen test in 1937 that led to a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers Studios. He spent the first few years of his Hollywood career in the "B film" unit and his first screen credit was the starring role in the 1937 movie "Love Is on the Air." By the end of 1939 he had appeared in 19 films, including "Dark Victory" with Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Before the film "Santa Fe Trail" with Errol Flynn in 1940, he was cast in the role of George "The Gipper" Gipp in the film "Knute Rockne, All American". "The Gipper" would forever become his lifelong nickname.
Although Reagan referred to "Kings Row" as the film that "made me a star;" he was unable to capitalize on the success because he was ordered to active duty with the U.S. Army two months after its release. Reagan was never again able to regain "star" status in motion pictures. Soon he would shift into politics, beginning his career as a liberal Democrat; but then by the 1950's becoming more and more a conservative Republican. Ronald Reagan would reach the ultimate political job as President of the United States of America in 1981.
Presidents make wonderful subject matter for artists, and Ronald Reagan was no exception. What was lacking from other artist's portraits of Reagan was any reference to his long career in Hollywood. Andy Warhol, while working on his Ad Series; would make a direct reference to Reagan's prior career as an actor in motion pictures. Warhol had a history of portraiture and had made portraits of former presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Carter. What was to be different for the Reagan portrait was the source material. Warhol, for both the paitings on canvas and the limited edition prints, had decided to use a photograph of an old shirt ad that was part of a promotional campaign for Ronald Reagan's 1953 film, "Law and Order."
In this wonderful serigraph, Warhol casts Reagan in a circa-1953 advertisement for wrinkle-free Van Heusen Century shirts. The text of the ad reads, "You can twist it... You can twirl it... You can bend it... You can curl it... The new revolutionary collar on Van Heusen Century shirts won't wrinkle... ever!" A smiling Ronald Reagan is off the left of the image and the text seems to play off of Reagan’s nickname, the “Teflon President.” This title had been given to him by Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, because it seemed that no negative criticism of him ever seemed to stick.
Andy Warhol had his start in the art world by becoming a commercial advertising artist. This early career would always influence his art and in 1985 Warhol created a series of ten works that he called Ads. It is interesting to note that Warhol chose three famous actors James Dean, Ronald Reagan, and Judy Garland to feature in this suite. The ten prints are:
Rebel Without a Cause (James Dean) – based on the Japanese poster version of the movie
The New Spirit (Donald Duck) – based on an original Donald Duck drawing
Mobil – based on Mobil Oil Corporation trademark logo
Volkswagen – based on an advertisement by Volkswagen of America
Van Heusen – based on advertisement by Van Heusen featuring the actor at the time, Ronald Reagan
Apple –advertisement for Macintosh computers featuring the Apple logo
Paramount – original version of Paramount logo
Blackglama (Judy Garland) – advertisement for Blackglama Furs featuring Judy Garland
Life Savers – based on Lifesavers advertisement
Chanel – Chanel perfume bottle image trademarked by Chanel, Inc.
"Van Heusen (Ronald Reagan)" is a wonderful portrait of a former President, while integrating Andy Warhol's advertising history into the work. Reagan's influence in politics continues today, as the Republican party references him constantly; and this portrait references his long career in front of the camera.
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