With the rise and continued success of pop art, most of us are able to decipher what is categorised as Pop Art. No background or professional eye required. Perfect! But, what is Pop Art exactly? Why do so many of us know the name? And how has this style become such a significant part of not only art history but world culture? And who were the ones who kicked things off? Who were the pioneers of Pop Art?
Let’s begin and the beginning – What is pop art?
Pop art emerged in the UK during the mid-1950s as an art movement that challenged traditional forms of art. Although there is some artwork dating back to before the 1950s that is reminiscent of pop art. This because some think that the style is to be a derivative of Dadaism. But actually the movement was a creation of a London-based artist collective called the Independent Group. Some of the most significant Pop Art artists, who are considered the standard-bearers of the movement, including Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, were members of the Independent Group. All the way until the collective finally came to an end in 1955. The history of pop art soon continued. The movement found its way across the Atlantic where the US pop art movement emerged. Work by artists such as Andy Warhol then began to become a significant aspect of pop art.
The artists would use imagery from popular or mass culture. For example, imagery from advertising or even mundane everyday objects as their subject matter. The art ironically depicted the banal elements of contemporary culture. In layman’s terms, the pioneers of pop art used every day object to ridicule society. By doing so, they made the ordinary, extraordinary and managed to send a powerful message.
Let’s take a look at some of the pioneering artists that influenced the Pop Art movement.
As one of the founding members of the Independent Group, the Scottish artist and sculptor is considered the original pioneer of pop art. Eduardo Palozzi’s collage, ‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything’ (1947), is formed of cuttings from magazines and advertisements and mounted on card. It is widely regarded as one of most influential pieces of pop art and it’s the first of its style to include the word ‘pop’ in the design.
Distinctive of pop art, Paolozzi’s ‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything’ shows interest in US consumerism hat enveloped contemporary American culture (note the Coca-Cola advert in the bottom right corner of the art piece). This anti-establishment or anti-“big money” became the corners stone of the movement. To this day, protest is still a large part of the pop art culture. Therefore, it’s fair to say that Paolozzi was a true pioneer.
Along with Eduardo Paoplozzi, Hamilton was also a member of the Independent Group. In 1956, Hamilton helped to define the ‘This Is Tomorrow’ exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. The exhibition was made up of 12 artists presenting their work in a variety of different mediums. The exhibition is considered to be the event that triggered the British pop art movement. It was in ‘This Is Tomorrow’ that Hamilton presented his collage ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ (1956) This piece was what launched Hamilton into becoming a recognised Pop artist, a pioneer. He continued to produce numerous other pop art works that are still shown in museums world wide today. For example, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different’ (1992), which featured the female bodybuilder, Bernie Price.
Arguably one of the most famous artists of all time, Andy Warhol was a pioneer of the US Pop Art movement. Warhol began his career as a commercial artist, designing images for advertising campaigns. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that he moved into the fine art world. As an artist he took with him the skills he acquired from his advertising days, including his silk-screening technique he is so famously known for. This allowed him to produce a large number of his paintings at one time. His depiction of the mundane commercial art led him to create the Campbell’s Soup Cans collection (1962). This work launched his career and threw him into the spotlight. Although ‘Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)’ (1963) later became his most expensive painting. It sold for $105 million in 2013.
Interesting to know about Andy Warhol is the fact that, besides being a pioneer of pop art, he was also the first artist to not shy away from money. Back then it was frowned upon to be in the art business for money. Warhol was one of the first to disagree and was very outspoken about the fact that artist could / should make money of their art. Even called doing business an art in itself. And art he mastered quite well. Andy Warhol past away with a more than $200.000.000 behind his name.
Another prominent figure and a true pioneer of the pop art movement in the US. Roy Lichtenstein was best known for his works, ‘Drowning Girl’ and ‘Whaam!’. He created both of which were created in 1963. Sourcing his work from DC comic books, Lichtenstein used pieces out of existing comic art and combined them with thick outline features, bold colours and Ben-Day dots.
Much like his contemporaries, Lichtenstein’s work was criticised for being mere copies of something that already existed. The art critics called his work non-art. They said it lacked creativity and passion. However, his art remains a prominent factor in the pop art movement. His work, today, is found in museums all over the world. His originals can even command millions these.
TODAY’S PIONEERS OF POP ART
Pop art has continued to adapt, develop and grow. And today, we can view some spectacular creations by artists such as Joaquim Falco. Falco produces powerful works of art combining bold colours with iconic characters from Donald Duck to Vincent Van Gogh. You can still easily spot the anti-consumerism message. The use of every brands an object is still very common. Another thing that remained is the brightness of the works. The pioneers, especially Warhol and lichtenstein, didn’t shy away from bright and outspoken colours. Just look at the work from Falco exposed here. It’s hard to overlook the outspoken colours.
Mixing Pop & Street Art
Alternatively, there is the British street and pop artist, BASM. His preferred technique is mixed media stencil art and spray paint. By looking as BASM’s style you can see two clear elements. Pop art reference dating back to the pioneers. Such as the bright colours and the use of every day pop culture. You also see a clear adaptation towards street art, a movement that decades after pop art become popular.
This mixture of the two styles is something we see more and more these days. The signatures of the pioneers, especially the brightness and the songs of protest, are still very prominent. But we also spot the songs of street emerging from current pop art. Let’s see which style will eventually win; pop art or street art?