Following the popularity of the Post World War II American Painting movement known as Abstract Expressionism, the reintroduction of images or paintings that were inspired by mass media, popular culture and consumerism was enabled by the arrival of ‘pop art’. Modernism was moving away from the magical realism or surrealism of the 1920’s and the celebration of common household items like ‘Campbell’s Tomato Soup’ and 50’s cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe, helped elevate popular culture as an appropriate topic to discuss and narrate through visual colourful aesthetics as mediated through pop art. Post War, art had always seen as the epitome of ‘high culture’ which meant that owning paintings or even having an interest in art became an exclusive ‘members only club’ that was only open to the upper class, who had plenty of wealth to line their pockets with cold hard cash. Yet pop art, as made popular by Andy Warhol and Roy Litchenstein, sought to break down the wall between ‘high and low culture’ by remonstrating that ‘there should not be any hierarchy of culture’ because art should be open to all.
Pop Art In The United Kingdom (1950’S)
While we often associate Pop Art with Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe, the pop art movement actually began in the 1950’s in the UK, although became popular in New York in the 1960’s. Early artists like Eduardo Paulozzi and Richard Hamilton were widely considered to be ‘pioneers of pop art’ in Britain and unlike American pop art which was a reactionary movement against the ‘dominant exclusionary ideals of Abstract Expressionism’, British Pop Art was considered to be more academic. British Pop Art focused on the dynamic and paradoxical imagery of American Pop Culture as ‘symbolic manipulative devices’ that were conditioning whole patterns of life and saw American Culture as something to be ‘viewed from afar’. In other words, while British Pop Art still employed the signature ‘ironic paradoxical’ insight into popular culture, it is critics belief that British Pop Art was more of a reaction against Dadaism as opposed to Abstract Expressionism as it was in New York. Although Dadaism did reject capitalism and was a movement that sought to destabilize the bourgeoisie nationalist and colonial interests, whereas Pop Art- although a vigorous claimant that it was anti-capitalism- was rooted in consumerism, thus fueled by capitalist interests, both art movements are viewed as examples of ‘anti art’.
Pop Art In America (1960’s)
American Pop Art however was a reaction against Abstract Expressionism ; Pop Artists like Robert Rauschenberg rejected Abstract Expressionists idea that art had ‘universal meaning’ believing that since art is open to interpretation, art should be created with the idea of ‘fluid meanings’ in mind. While British Pop Art romanticized American Iconography from the perspective of ‘viewing it from afar’, American Pop Art sought to detach itself from the ‘artifacts that it was portraying’ and was more aggressive in its portrayal of popular culture vs consumerism than their British Predecessors. Early pioneers like Rauschenberg were classed as ‘Neo Dada’ and created art out of ephemeral materials like tyres, silkscreen and trash, with the idea that ‘anything could be classed as art’. What Rauschenberg is more well known for however is using silkscreen to clone or reproduce images in a collage format that draws parallels with more popular forerunners of ‘Pop Art’ like Andy Warhol and his ‘Campbell’s Tomato Soup Collage’. Although Rauschenberg is credited for raising awareness of the pop art movement in the US, it is Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein who popularized the sixties art movement.
Lichenstein’s comic strip titled ‘Drowning Girl’ (1963) is most likely the second most popular and well known example of Pop Art, after Andy Warhol’s ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ (1962) and quite clearly references old comic strips such as the 1939 original Timely Publications Marvel ‘Human Torch Cover’ which shares a distinctive artistic aesthetic, drawing parallels with Lichenstein’s later works. While The Drowning Girl might have been influenced by earlier comics, the 1963 comic strip was ‘appropriated’ from the lead story in DC Comics Secret Hearts Issue 83, which became ‘popular’ after Lichenstein’s Drowning Girl Artwork’. Although the original DC Secret Heart’s Issue used artwork by Tony Abruzzo and titled the scene as the ‘Run For Love’, Lichentein’s appropriation of the drowning nameless girl and cropping the guy ‘Mal’ -renamed as Brad- out, redefined the image as a woman that is in control of her destiny even when she is dying. And that is a powerful image to convey.
In contrast Andy Warhol, the most popular pop art pioneer’s personal life was as colourful as his art. Shot by radical feminist Valerie Solanas in 1968, Warhol barely recovered from his gunshot wounds and had to wear a surgical corset until his death of surgery complications in 1987, aged 58. But it is his art that lives on, even after his death. Initially pursuing a career as a commercial illustrator, when Warhol cultivated the pop art movement critics were scandalized and openly attacked Warhol for “capitulating” to consumerism. Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture and felt that he had debased himself as an artist, thus this symposium had set the tone for Warhol’s reception at the 1964 exhibit’ The American Supermarket’, a show held in Paul Bianchini’s Upper East Side gallery. Yet despite the initial criticism Warhol remains a forerunner to this day and is often credited by contemporaries for coining the term ’15 minutes of fame’ which his art had offered wannabee celebrities.
Pop Art In Modern Culture
Today reverence to pop culture can be seen through popular culture mediums like Youtube – see Kelly Rowland’s Kisses Down Low Video which plays with the duplicate image silkscreen inverted colour effect- popular exhibitions at revered art Galleries like the Tate Modern’s ‘Pop Life: Art in a Material World’ and even through fashion, with designers like Moschino’s ironic mass consumerist outlook on American culture, using symbolic icons of America like McDonald’s and Barbie to pay tribute to the sixties art phenomenon. Of course modern art and modern art digital sites like Art Your Face, have also set up tribute to the pop art movement, with a personalized approach that utilizes pop art for the contemporary, modern audience. With pop art’s idea that art is open to interpretation and should not be ‘exclusionary’ sites like Art Your Face, allow us to take sixties art trends like Pop Art and be able to store it for modern day use, without fear of ‘debasing or offending the artistic legacy. From canvases to posters, pop art can take on any medium and still be colourful, loud and fun without the ironical or paradoxical anti-art perspective that is associated with sixties America and 50’s Post War Britain.
The idea of art being ‘personal’ as opposed to Elitist is what made ‘pop art’ so iconic and teaches us that even as a modern day contemporary audience, we can still re-define art to mean something to us, as opposed to mainstream values like political liberation or consumerism. Thus, although art has always been open to fluid as opposed to fixed meaning, we also as the artistic audience as opposed to the artists themselves have the ability to mold and transform art into something that holds meaning to us, and us only.
What Are Your Thoughts On Pop Art?
Please note this is a paid post in collaboration with Art Your Face but all research and thought are my own.