Pop Art is perhaps one of the most significant art movements of the 20th century. But what makes an artwork 'pop'? And who were the pop artists?
You might recognize some of its most famous names like American artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. We'll learn more about them later, because our story starts in London, 1952. A group of young avantgarde artists, writers and architects, including Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, formed The Independent Group.
The group wanted to challenge the art world, and was interested in the relationship between popular culture and the visual arts. Paolozzi lead the charge, giving an important presentation where he showed advertising, comic strips and assorted graphic images from American magazines. Inspired by these images the group wanted to create art that was inclusive, and which had mass appeal. Paolozzi had already begun to create collages using some of these images, in works like 'I was a Rich Man's Plaything', 1947, from the series 'Bunk!'. The collage brings together Coca-Cola advertising and an image of a Second World War fighter plane, while a playful magazine cover takes centre stage. Paolozzi also incorporated the word 'Pop!' in a cloud emanating from a pistol above the featured starlet's head.
In America, artists were also starting to reference and incorporate images from mass media into their artworks. The New York artist Roy Lichtenstein was inspired by comic books and cartoons. His early works from the 1960's included screenprints of Mickey Mouse and Popeye. His source material for the painting 'In The Car', 1962, was an image from 'Girls' Romances', an anthology by DC Comics. Here he presents an image of contemporary America, through appropriating images from mass culture.
Andy Warhol, whose name has become synonymous with pop art, emerged at the same time as Lichtenstein. In the early 1960's, Warhol embarked on a series of portraits of stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Jackie Kennedy. He used photographic cell screen printing to create his celebrity portraits, enabling him to reproduce recognizable images already out in public, like publicity shots or tabloid photographs. He often repeated the image mulitiple times as both a celebration and critique of contemporary culture.
Contemporary artists influenced by pop art, and sometimes referred to as 'neo pop', include Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. Like Warhol before them, they often celebrate banality, using mechanical processes to create their work, and repetition within it. But the legacy of pop art, and its themes of repetition, daily objects and mass media lives on beyond art, with endless offshots and commercial designs appearing in contemporary society. Is this the greatest sign of their success, that they took from popular culture to create art, and now the art they created has been reclaimed by popular culture once more?
An example of Pop Art (many more images of this art style to come!)