Andy Warhol first depicted Coca-Cola iconic imagery in the 1960s when he created human-sized canvases of the contour bottle. Warhol was not yet a famous artist, and these were some of his earliest Pop-inspired images. He had been working for a decade as a Madison Avenue advertising designer, creating window displays and illustrations to accompany articles in women’s fashion magazines like ​Harper’s Bazaar​.

But Warhol wanted to break into the world of “real artists.” He dreamed of having his own artwork featured in New York galleries. Naturally, when he wanted to transition from illustrations to oil paintings, he utilised the subject matter he was most familiar with: consumer products such as Coca-Cola, which he often drank, and Campbell’s soup, which he ate every day for lunch.

Ten years after he first took on the Coca-Cola bottle as his muse, he included his admiration for the democratic nature of Coca-Cola in his iconic book of musings The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again)​.

'What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest... All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.' (​Warhol, Andy. ​The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again​. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975,​ pg. 100)

Warhol created original works of art for other ​TIME magazine​ covers over the years, from a story featuring his artwork on “Today’s Teenagers” in 1965, to celebrity covers featuring Michael Jackson in 1984 and Lee Iacocca in April 1985. Given the success of this commission, he was able to land one for the 1985 launch of New Coke, set to be on the June cover just a few months after the initial product launch in April.

He discussed the controversial announcement of the release of New Coke with his biographer Pat Hackett:

“Wednesday April 24, 1985. The big news on TV is that Coke is changing their formula. Why would they do that? It doesn’t make sense. They could’ve just come out with a new product and left Coke alone. It seems crazy. And all the TV new shows love it, they’re doing all these stories of people sitting around taste-testing.” (​Warhol, Andy, and Pat Hackett. ​The Andy Warhol Diaries​. 1989,​ pg. 1903)

Warhol reflected on the release of New Coke on the 24th and, just five days later, he notes in his diaries that the TV commercial he shot for Diet Coke featuring the “Just for the Taste of It” tagline had been seen by friends and that he was featured prominently.

The archives at The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh houses an invitation Warhol received to sample New Coke at the trendy Limelight Club on Aug. 20, 1985. He also received a box from The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York containing a six-pack of New Coke and a 7-oz. glass bottle.

When commissioned by​ TIME​ to create the cover image of New Coke, Warhol decided to use the drink itself, and literally spilled New Coke onto paper to create a teardrop formation of the “Coke spill.” This spill was much more carefully crafted, and Andy had done several sketches in graphite of the outline he was trying to create with the New Coke. As evidence in the drawings Warhol completed, he ultimately decided to go with a Pop outline of the New Coke that emphasised its teardrop-like quality and associate the “newness” of New Coke with thirst-quenching refreshment.

After he was able create the “Coke Spill” effect, he took Polaroids of the can and the spill and had the chosen photograph turned into the mesh screen for the final cover design. Warhol added ink in his signature bright Pop colors to the screen, utilizing the classic red, white and blue American color palette for the New Coke can, and an ombre effect from brown to red to orange for the New Coke spill. The squeegee imprinted the ink onto the paper, and he adhered glue to the mesh areas of the screen where he did not want ink to pass through, to create negative space. He continued this process of inking the squeegee and passing it through the mesh screen to create the array of colors utilized in this work and outlined the spill in a eye-catching yellow to emphasise the contrast of the dark red “New Coke.”

TIME​ ultimately did not run the planned June 1985 cover featuring Warhol’s depiction of New Coke, as Coca-Cola announced that original Classic formula would return on July 10, 1985. A “special edition” issue of ​TIME​ was later published featuring a photograph of the New Coke can with an “X” through the middle, signifying the short-lived brand's demise.