Steve Penley's Soda Pop Art

Here’s a quick and easy test to determine what icon best represents America.

Picture the American Flag. Quick; how many stars are there on the top row?

Time’s up. There are six.

Now picture Mount Rushmore. Quick; what order are the Presidents in?

Time’s Up. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln.

Now picture a Coke bottle. 

We don’t even need to ask you a question with this one. Of course you know what a Coke bottle looks like. And we’re willing to bet your mental image is a little clearer than those other icons of Americana.

“It’s the perfect icon,” said artist Steve Penley. “All of us have some connection to it, especially in the South.”

Penley should know. He’s been called the “artist in residence” at Coca-Cola, with his works displaying at a year-long showing when World of Coca-Cola first opened, commemorating the brand’s 100th year in Central America, and gracing the walls at the company’s offices around the globe. 

There’s no counting how many works he’s done for the company since he first created a massive 4×6 foot portrait of the classic contour bottle for a college friend who worked in shareholder relations for Coke. But it’s extensive. Essentially, if Coca-Cola needs something energetic and vibrant, they come to him.

“There are worse brands to be tied to,” he quipped. 

Then again, there may be a touch of destiny involved with Penley’s long-standing allegiance to the Coca-Cola brand (his Southern roots notwithstanding). Growing up in Macon, Penley spent many an afternoon riding shotgun as his grandfather went about his route delivering – you guessed it – Coca-Cola.

“It seems like fate that I would be so closely tied to the brand, but I’m not going to pretend I’m unique in that,” he said. “For a lot of people in the South, it’s such a part of their lives.”


Learn more about Coke's artist in residence and his unique take on American art, subscribe now or pick up the October/November issue of South Magazine.