The Very First Bar Code Artwork

bernard solco target datamatrix barcodes sm

Bernard Solco's paintings of a 1950's Bullseye barcode & a Data Matrix barcode. circa 1995

There aren’t many people who can actually say that they were the first person to ever do something that no one else has ever done before. There are even less who can say that more than once. Meet Bernard Solco, a New York City based artist who was the first painter to ever look at a barcode and say, “That’s art.” In the spring of 1993, Solco had an opportunity to show his artwork to a select group of serious Pop Art collectors and art critics at a private exhibit in the prestigious Soho Arts District in lower Manhattan. The artist had only two weeks to create a masterpiece that would make a lasting impression on the esteemed group. 

Solco went right to work and stretched two oversized canvases but had no particular inspiration or subject in mind. Three days had passed and the artist just stared at the canvases waiting for something to appear in his mind’s eye. The artist, who lived and worked in a loft, woke up the next morning and sat in his kitchen eating breakfast while looking at the empty canvases that were in the distance leaning against the wall in his studio. The loft was quite large and the studio was far enough from the kitchen that in perspective the canvases appeared to be only a few inches tall.

While pouring Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup into a glass of milk his eye immediately focused on the barcode on the back of the bottle. Serendipitously, the shape of the barcode was exacty the same shape as one of the stretched canvases in his studio. As the artist was holding up the bottle and looking at the barcode he glanced at the canvas in the distance. The idea for a giant barcode was born. Solco spent the next three days painting an impressive four foot tall Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup barcode and the rest is history.

bernard solco marlboro menthol barcode sm

Bernard Solco’s giant Marlboro Menthol Cigarette barcode. circa 1994

The artist not only impressed the art collectors and critics, he also sold the Hershey’s painting on the spot. In addition, an art dealer invited Solco to do a solo exhibition of his giant barcodes in his New York City gallery. For the next six months, the artist painstakingly created an entire series of paintings and limited edition prints entitled, “American Product Series.” The series was comprised of 20 large scale paintings and prints of American product barcodes. Several of the paintings depicted barcodes from food items that the artist himself purchased on a regular basis. Solco has united the two distinct roles of consumer and artist. Representing a range of popular products from Oreo Cookies, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Marlboro Cigarettes, and Kodak Film. The impressive oversize paintings were precisely scaled and rendered that each painting is capable of actually being scanned. Twenty five years later, the paintings can still be scanned today by using a barcode scanner that can be downloaded to a cell phone or tablet.

bernard solco target datamatrix barcodes sm

Bernard Solco paints a 5x6 foot Kellogg's Corn Flakes barcode. circa 1993

Solco’s American Product Series debuted in a Soho art gallery in the fall of that year. The show was a huge hit and the artist sold out the entire series except for two paintings which he decided to keep for his own collection. He has since then went on to paint more than seventy product barcodes. He went on to paint nearly as many 2D barcodes which brings us to Solco’s next “first”. The artist was also the first civilian to be formally introduced to new 2D barcode technology the following year. One of Solco’s collectors was a barcode pioneer and prominent figure in the barcode industry. The collector purchased several paintings for the newly decorated lobby of his barcode company. Solco was introduced to other industry insiders who gave him a private tour of a facility that was working with the Department of Defense and 2D barcode technology.

The artist was very intrigued, not only with the technology, but even more with the visual aspects of the 2D codes. The artist was again inspired, and created an entire new series of paintings and limited edition prints entilted “Symbology”. The paintings and prints featured several 2D barcodes which the artist had encrypted with various messages in the artwork. One of the paintings was a six foot long PDF-417 code that was encrypted with Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Bernard Solco’s incredible 2D barcode paintings rewarded him with the distinct honor of creating the world’s first talking paintings. Solco’s paintings and prints have been acquired by private and corporate collectors such as Zebra, and Symbol Technology.

bernard solco joe woodland 1999

Bernard Solco and the inventor of the barcode, Joe Woodland. circa 1999

While a good percentage of the artists portfolio consists of paintings focusing on information technology, the artist has also made a name for himself as a celebrity portrait painter. Solco has been commissioned to paint portraits for some of the world’s most famous celebrities and prominent world figures including actress Brook Shields, NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, President Donald Trump and many others. His unique style of portraits penetrate deep into the core of each person he paints creating the effect that the portrait is somehow alive. One of Solco’s crowning achievements was painting a portrait of the father of the barcode himself, Joe Woodland. Solco was commissioned to paint Dr. Woodlands portrait, and in October 1999 had the honor of presenting the portrait to Dr. Woodland on the 50th Anniversary of the invention of the barcode patented by Dr. Woodland in October 1949. To commemorate the event, the artist also created a unique series of 49 limited edition serigraph prints depicting the very first barcode. Dr. Woodland also signed the series. There are still a few prints available in the suite and can be acquired on the artist’s website. 

Although the artist works with celebrities he also paints individuals and families from every walk of life. The artist has a Facebook page where he regularly posts photos of his work. He welcomes friend requests especially from anyone who loves barcodes!


Bernard Solco’s paintings, prints and portraits are surprisingly affordable and can be shipped worldwide. Please visit his website at:    Please call the studio for sales and commission requests. 917-293-0028


Other Barcode news of interest:

Ultimate Checklist for Retailers: Physical Inventory Counts
Understanding and Implementing Enterprise Barcode Label Management
American Thermal Paper Market Threatened By Exodus of Chinese Chemical Manufacturer
Inventory Control of Liquor
Recent Updates to ISO 15416 for Linear Barcodes
Wearables are the New Black: And Other Trends to Transform Your Supply Chain Process 
GS1 US Produces Test Cards to Support Effective Barcode Verification Processes










Tagged under barcode