“Rebel Without a Cause” by Andy Warhol

By: Dara Vandor

Andy Warhol (1928-1987), American. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (JAMES DEAN), FROM “ADS”, 1985 [F&S II. 355]
sheet 38 x 38 in — 96.5 x 96.5 cm. Estimate: $100,000-$150,000
In 1985, Andy Warhol created a portfolio of ten works based on advertisements, known as the Ad Series. Produced only two years before Warhol’s death, the Ad Series was commissioned by Ronald Feldman of Feldman Fine Arts, who had worked with Warhol extensively throughout the 1980s. Warhol based these screenprints on well-known publicity images from the 1950s-1970s, choosing ones from Apple Computers, Mobilgas, Ronald Reagan for Van Heusen, Paramount, Judy Garland for Blackglama Furs, Chanel, Donald Duck for The New Spirit, Lifesavers, Volkswagen, and James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause.

Rebel Without a Cause was released in 1955, a coming-of-age drama about inter-generational conflicts centring around rootless suburban teenagers. The film starred Dean alongside Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood. Rebel Without a Cause was released only a month after Dean’s death in a car accident in September 1955, and cemented his status as a major film star.

Warhol viewed Dean as an original figure of teenage fantasy, a figure which he uses to deconstruct the idea of fantasy itself. In his book “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol,” Warhol views Dean as a paragon (italics are the author’s own):

“So this means that if you see a well-dressed person today, you know that they’ve thought a lot about their clothes and how they look. And then that ruins it because you shouldn’t really be thinking about how you look so much […] So today, if you see a person who looks like your teenage fantasy walking down the street, it’s probably not your fantasy, but someone who had the same fantasy as you and decided instead of getting it or being it, to look like it, and so he went to the store and bought the look you both like. So forget it. Just think about all the James Deans and what it means.”

As with the other images in this series, Warhol is using Dean to comment on the seductive and illusory nature of advertising, which he understood to be an influential form of visual culture in its own right. Warhol’s great talent lay in distilling and reflecting specific cultural moments, often through the lens of celebrity and consumerism. He also successfully blurs the lines between fine art and mass media, as well as fine art and commerce.

For Warhol’s screenprint of Rebel Without a Cause, he took inspiration not from the American release poster, but from the Japanese version, transforming it through his use of an electrified red, black and green palette. Unlike in the original, Dean’s figure is repeated twice, perhaps a comment on the endless reproduction of mass media, or on Dean and his celluloid afterlife.

Of the ten images in the Ad Series, it is this image which has been the most manipulated, the most stylized, and the one pulled from the most foreign source. The majority of Warhol’s work focuses on American imagery, and so his use of this Japanese version of an American classic can be viewed as a comment on the universality of mass-media and the global creep of an increasingly hegemonic visual culture.

By the time he made his Ad series, Warhol had been making movies for decades. He knew the seductive power and alchemy of film. Of the power of movie stars, he wrote in 1975: “That screen magnetism is something secret—if you could only figure out what it is and how to make it, you’d have a really good product to sell.”

Looking at the screenprint of James Dean, it seems that by 1985, Warhol had figured it out, and had a really great product to sell.


Online from June 24 – 29, Waddington’s Editions auction features work by Warhol alongside Alex Katz, David Hockney, Sam Francis, Zhang Xiaogang, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

Please contact us for more information.

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