Why is it cool to have a painting of Mickey Mouse or Campbells soup cans on your wall? In the 1950s, a movement called Pop Art emerged first in Britain, then in the United States, and later gained popularity across the world. Defined by its name, Pop Art embraced images from the everyday, extracted from popular and commercial culture. It was a rejection of the elitist forms of art that preceded it, with artists attempting to create artworks that related directly to their daily lives, and those of their friends, family and neighbours.
Commonly employing bright colours, artists were inspired by Hollywood, advertising, product packaging, pop music and comic books. They would often represent banal or kitsch parts of mainstream culture, and more particularly consumer culture. Although incredibly witty, with its play on irony and parody, the movement received backlash for not being sufficiently critical and embracing what was deemed ‘low’ subjects. Its popularity with the wider public allowed art to become more accessible for those outside the exclusive art bubble.
Although the term Pop art is usually associated with American artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the movement actually emerged in Britain a decade earlier. Whilst Britain was still recovering from World War II, the United States was prospering and a highly consumerist culture was emerging. Looking on from afar, both longingly and critically, the British movement explored the power of manipulation that these commercial images had on the American lifestyle.
In the United States, Pop Art rose in popularity especially in New York as the originally popular canvases of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and '50s became cliched. Pop Art borrowed items from everyday life looking inwardly on their own society by representing the mundane reality comprising their surroundings.
Amongst the most famous American pop artists are Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Tom Wesselmann and Robert Indiana, and in the UK Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Patrick Caulfield.
Andy Warhol is probably the most famous of all. Growing up in Pittsburgh as part of a poor Eastern-European immigrant family, he became a New York celebrity and popular icon. For many his ascent echoes one of Pop art's ambitions, to bring popular styles and subjects into the exclusive echelons of high art. His iconic screenprinted images captured events, popular celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and household goods like Coca Cola and Campbell’s soup (which it was rumored he ate for lunch every single day).
After its peak in the 1960s, Pop Art spread and developed across the globe in various ways. Artistic communities in Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East responded to the movement by expanding upon it, taking instead images from their own popular cultures. Pop Art also evolved into a movement that was used to subvert and mock the powers of mainstream figures and culture. It took on political, revolutionary and and celebratory capacities to comment on or represent the banal realities of contemporary culture. It has become an art form that is appreciable and highly recognisable by many living in modern society, and thus remains a popular art form in galleries, institutions and private collections.
Andy Warhol - Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962
Synthetic polymer paint on thirty-two canvases - Each canvas 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm)
In the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York NY
Eduardo Paolozzi - BUNK! - Evadne in Green Dimension, 1972
Screenprint and collage - 21 x 30 cm; 8 1/4 x 12 in.
Flowers Gallery, London
Cartrain - Kim Jong-un, 2015
Screen print - 59.4 x 42cm; 23 2/5 x 16 1/2 in.
Edition of 10 + 1AP
Imitate Modern, London
Shepard Fairey - Power and Equality, 2007
Screenprint - 62 x 47 cm. (24.4 x 18.5 in)
EHC Fine Art, Washington DC
Paul Béliveau - Vanitas 17.10.24, 2017
Acrylic on canvas - 76.2 x 76.2 cm; 30 x 30 in.
Thompson Landry Gallery, Toronto ON.
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