Pop Art: The young and fun movement
Pop Art celebrates common objects and everyday life. It is young, fun, energetic, impertinent and irreverent towards established art. It challenges fine art traditions and draws its inspiration from popular and commercial culture such as advertising, news
The movement started in Britain in the mid 1950s and the U.S. followed soon after, adopting it and making it its own. In Europe, it was a revolt against the traditional view of what art should be, and young artists felt that galleries and museums did not represent them or what was happening around them. Also, underneath there is criticism of consumer culture that developed in the US after World War II, and a rejection of the Abstract Expressionist movement that was dominant in both Europe and America.
Pop Art, nicknamed “Material Culture’ depicts the visual world around us. Also referred to as ‘the American dream, optimistic, generous, naïve’, it brings identifiable objects that everyman can understand. By using unemotional subjects and items, artists moved away from personal feelings in art, replacing it with irony, humour and wit.
The strongest influence on Pop Art is Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who broke the barrier between art and our surroundings with his ready objects like the bicycle wheel and the urinal, which he titled ‘Fountain’.
The British Pop artist Richard Hamilton (1922- 2011) is believed to be the first to use the term Pop Art. He defined the movement to a friend in 1957 as: “Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low cost, Mass produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big business.”
The difference between Pop Art in the U.S. and Europe is that the latter is less a reflection
of the consumer society but bears the scars of its past. The British movement started by satirising American consumerism, when the Europeans were still suffering from the after war austerity. Though slightly envious, they admired America’s freedom from the burden of Europe’s heritage.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) personifies Pop Art, and is probably its best-known artist. He is famous for his multi-coloured portraits of celebrities, of Coca Cola bottles and of Campbell’s soup cans, sometimes replicated to fill the wall like on supermarket shelves. He would say that art is not different from a soup can, as they both can be bought and sold.
Warhol originally worked as a commercial artist, and his imagery is derived from advertising, comic books, television, and cinema. He was fascinated with the banal, like soup cans, soap cartons or Coca Cola bottles. He would meticulously paint them and wanted all his paintings to be the same size, explaining: “I think every painting should be the same size and the same colour so they’re all interchangeable and nobody thinks they have a better or worse painting.” By putting the glamorous Marilyn next to a soup can was his way of criticising American obsession with stardom. The greatness of America for him is that poor people and the richest buy the same product, both president and bum consume Coca Cola.
Warhol’s work was produced in an impersonal, mechanical manner, calling his studio ‘The Factory’ where an army of helpers worked. He is known for expressions like:” I am a deeply superficial person,” and, “art should be meaningful in the most superficial way”.
Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923-1997) paintings provide another picture of contemporary U.S. culture. He derived his subjects from comic books, using commercial methods, strong colours and black outlines. His paintings were filled with small machine created dots that were used in printing comics. There is humour and satire in his work, leaving no place for emotions.
Claes Oldenburg (1929) was born in Sweden but now lives and works in the U.S. He makes sculpture, especially soft plastic objects like cigarette tips, typewriters and the famous gigantic hamburger. Like other Pop artists, Claes was interested in consumer goods, saying:” I am for Kool art, 7UP art, Pepsi art, Sunshine art, 39 Cent art. . .”. He played with the size of objects like recreating huge spoons or cake slices or clothespins, reflecting:” I like to take a subject and deprive it of its function completely”, and by playing with its scale, he destroys its usefulness.
Some Pop Artists want to show the superficiality and excesses of modern society, others recognise it as a fact, while some criticise its disregard of tradition. Though it was not always taken seriously, it eventually gained acceptance because of its easily understood images. Its proponents saw it as democratic, while its rejecters consider it vulgar and sensational, without depth or aesthetic qualities. Pop Art is still popular because it relates to our culture, is democratic, and not elitist.
Andy Warhol “Marilyn” – 1967
Jasper Johns “Target with four faces” – 1968
Andy Warhol “Nina Jackies” – 1964
Roy Linchtenstein “Girl in Window” – 1964
Allan D’arcangelo “Madona & Child” – 1963
Claes Oldenburg “Giant Fagends” - 1967