Andy Warhol: Analysis of Foot and Tire, 1963-1964.

February 5, 2010

Figure 1. Foot and Tire, 1963-64, silkscreen ink on linen.

Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series from 1962 to 1964 was one of the most prolific undertakings of his career, despite the lack of enthusiasm gathered from the American audience. The paintings included jarring scenes attributed to news paper tabloids and crime scene photos: suicides, freak accidents, car wrecks, criminal mug shots, as well as haunting portrayals of the infamous Sing-Sing electric chair, atomic bombs and a grief-stricken Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis. However, one of the most disturbing works created by Warhol within this series is Foot and Tire, from 1964-1965.[1] The “punctum” of this work, unlike its fellows, is a representation of subtle morbidity rather than a blatant confrontational account of tragic human loss.[2] This work, in particular, focuses more on the massive force being applied to the figure, rather than spotlighting a mangled corpse as with many of the other Death and Disaster works: White Burning Car III, Suicide from 1963, and Saturday Disaster, Plebian way of Death. [3] Once the viewer deciphers the tragic occurrence being portrayed within the works, one becomes forcibly despondent in lamentation to the disconcerting nature in which the removal of human life is represented. Whole assumed narratives can be pulled out of the Death and Disaster works, and most are rather simple to comprehend without having known the personal intentions of the artist. They are just typical, everyday tragedies—dismal, of course, but they occur nonetheless. Foot and Tire, in relation to this summary, is quite the opposite and instead, fairs as a prime example of Warhol’s deeper understanding of human mortality within both physical and social realms. With Foot and Tire, Warhol incorporates a more metaphorical undertone that refers to his personal opinions of life, fame, celebrity, and man versus the machine.

Figure 2. White Burning Car III, 1963, silkscreen on canvas.

Figure 3. Suicide, 1963, silkscreen.

Figure 4. Saturday Disaster, Plebian Way of Death, 1964, silkscreen on canvas.

Foot and Tire, a work of great size (88” x 145 5/16″), includes an appropriated image cropped down to a more intimate viewpoint of a person having been crushed by the rear wheels of a large industrial truck. Unlike the figurative portrayals of aforementioned works within the Death and Disaster series, this piece exhibits a singular shod masculine foot, assumed to be attached to the remains of an unseen human form pinned beneath the menacingly treaded tires. Screened in black and gray on a gray ground, the flat, melancholic image is multiplied four times within a 2 x 4 grid, strategically placed off-register with the majority of the print within in the left hemisphere of the stretcher. The grid’s orientation is such that only the top two panels run beyond the edge of the canvas, while the rest of the grid is framed by the gray background in varying distances from the canvas perimeter. The quality of the silk-screen technique varies from panel to panel; beginning with the lower left image then transitioning  to the top left panel, moving diagonal to the lower right image, and then terminating with the top right panel. The initial image is noticeably darker and visibly manifest. As the progression continues the images become lighter and much more obscure. By the last panel, only the tires can be seen and the human element is practically absorbed by the negative space. What might be read as amateur technique through the beginning and end of the Foot and Tire sequence is actually a major aspect to understanding the underlying meaning of the work.

Figure 5. Ambulance Disaster, 1963, silkscreen ink on canvas.

As it has been the described, in comparison to other Death and Disaster pieces, Foot and Tire is Warhol’s representation of a larger force affecting the human condition without the morbidly candid figurative element. One can deduce the grim hostility of the scene without being shown the grisly, mangled aftermath as with Saturday Disaster, Plebian way of Death or Ambulance Disaster. [4] Alternatively, the focus is placed on the truck. According to film director, and guest-curator David Cronenberg, in a recording referencing Foot and Tire from the 2006 Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters, 1962-1964, Warhol used the truck from the painting to symbolize Hollywood and the pressures that it exerts on its up-and-coming actors as well as its already famous inhabitants; “the little man being ground down under the behemoth of mass society.”[5] Drawing from Warhol’s statement that “in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” Cronenberg explains that in a sense, Foot and Tire summarizes Warhol’s celebrity paintings by reinforcing the realization that “anyone could become a star by dying, by becoming a disaster […] all [one] had to do was commit suicide when there was a photographer around or accidentally happen to get run over by an enormous, out-of-scale truck,” but after that “fifteen minutes” of stardom was complete, the celebrity begins to wear out and fade away, much like the panels in the painting; the initial image is clear and concise but as the images multiply they become grainy and obscure.[6] The serial nature of the work further encourages the viewers eventual lack of sensitivity to the scene, accentuating even more the inevitable fading away. The orientation of the imagery itself is positioned in a manner that it is receding to the left, allowing the negative space to creep in from the right, and therefore alluding the removal of the image from the viewer’s short-term memory much how a sentence is read and then forgotten as the next sentence begins.

The extended metaphor of Warhol’s portrayal of man versus machine can also be addressed throughout the motif of Foot and Tire. This particular reference, riveting to say the least, also allows the viewer to grasp the understanding that there is another similarity between the Foot and Tire piece and the rest of the Death and Disaster works other than death itself; Warhol has captured the thwarting of the American dream. Whether suicide, accident–or otherwise, the literal and metaphorical machine has dominated its human counterpart. This machine, the symbolic truck from Foot and Tire, could even be used to parallel Warhol’s biographical career with the exclusion of the literal impact, of course. For example, Warhol stated that “someone said my life has dominated [him],” which it certainly had, especially towards the latter years of his career, but unlike the man from Foot and Tire who was crushed beneath a pair of industrial-strength wheels, Warhol enveloped it, suggesting “if you can’t beat it […] join it. More, if you enter it totally, you might expose it; that is, you might reveal its automatism, even its autism, through your own excessive example.”[7] Subsequently, he grew to understand the workings of the machine and eventually, as he exposed its vices, he chose a path of  assimilation, therefore escaping the grim fate of many other Hollywood celebrities whose lives did not end in a natural—though unexpected—biological fashion. Despite the grim nature of the Death and Disaster series, especially Foot and Tire, one can certainly understand that Warhol’s intention was not to focus on the tragedy of human death simply for the sake of shocking an audience, but to portray the complex balance between the human element and its defiance or conformity to the societal machine; characterizing the inevitable catastrophe that can ensue as well as capturing the intellect of those who survive to witness the aftermath.


[1] See Fig. 1

[2] “The French philosopher Roland Barthes used the word ‘punctum’ to describe the power that photography has over the subjective viewer.”

John Everett Daquino, “Nihilism Never Looked So Good.”

<http://www.johndaquino.com/research%20warhol%20page.htm&gt; (accessed 20 June 2008).

[3] See Fig. 2, 3 & 4.

[4] See Fig. 4 & 5

[5] Jonathan Jones. “This is a Warning.” The Guardian, (July 2007).

<http://www. arts.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,330299691-123424,00.html> (accessed 20 June 2008).

[6] David Cronenberg, “Foot and Tire,” recording for art guide from Art Gallery of Ontario exhibition Andy

Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters 1962-1964, 2006, dialog.

[7] Hal Foster. “Death in America.” October, (Winter, 1989), pp. 41.

<http://www.jstor.org/stable/778898&gt; (accessed 23 June 2008).

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2 Responses to “Andy Warhol: Analysis of Foot and Tire, 1963-1964.”

  1. Jason said

    Simply amazing :o)

  2. tom said

    this was a revelation, never heard of this work before

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