A Complete Guide to Pop Art and Its Movement

A Complete Guide to Pop Art and Its Movement

Pop Art surfaced as a visual art movement during the 1950s in Britain and America, which peaked in the 60s. It took inspiration from the commercial and popular culture in the western world that slowly became a rebellion against the traditional art forms. The pop artist realized that the art displayed in museums or taught in schools actually does not showcases the image of the real world. Therefore, they took inspiration from contemporary mass culture instead.

The culture of pop art transitioned away from theory and abstract expressionism methods. The movement led to drawing upon day-to-day objects and media such as comic books, magazines, newspapers, and several other mundane objects to generate vibrant compositions. This established the movement and acted as the cornerstone of contemporary art.

The movement coincided with the youth culture and globalization of pop music. It was young, brash, and hostile to the artistic establishment. The art included a different style of sculptures and paintings from several countries. But, in all these, many things were common, and that are the mass culture, mass production, and mass media.

What is Pop Art and its History?

It is a movement that emerged around the mid-20th century where artists incorporated everyday objects like soup cans, comic strips, newspapers, and many others into their work. The pop-art movement strengthened the idea that art can be inspired from any source, and there is no such hierarchy to disrupt it.

The art began with a group of sculptors, critics, writers, and painters called the Independent group around the 1950s in Britain. It spread rapidly into the United States too. Much of the roots of the movement came from a cultural revolution led by artists, activists, and thinkers who targeted to restructure the social order ruled by conformity. Many believe that the collage of U.K. pop pioneer Richard Hamilton in 1956 marked as the official initiation of the cultural phenomenon.

According to Hamilton’s writings, Pop art is popular and designed for a massive audience, transient or the short-term solution, expendable, lower cost, mass-produced, youthful, witty, sexy, glamourous, gimmicky, big business. The movement began to spread in the United States, and then, it rapidly expanded across the globe. It still continues to inspire pop culture and pop art these days.

Main Characteristics of Pop Art

The vibrancy and unique characteristics present in the several iconic works of the movement makes pop art easily recognizable. Certain characteristics of pop art are mentioned below.

  • Recognizable imagery

In pop art, images and icons are utilized from popular products and media. This involves commercial items like road signs, soup cans, newspapers, celebrity photos, and many more. Brand names, as well as logos, were also incorporated. The art was inspired by anything and everything and not just by mythology, history, or morality.

  • Irony and Satire

Pop art utilized humor in a unique way, and it was one of the essential components. Artists mainly used the subject matter of any current event and make a statement about that, make fun of things, and even challenge the status quo. 

  • Bright colors

When someone talks about pop art, the first thing that strikes is vibrant colors. Bright primary colors, yellow, red, and blue, were exceptionally used to add charm to the art. The pigments were deep and bright, which can be seen in many famous works, especially in Roy Lichtenstein’s work.

  • Mixed media and collage

Artists were known to blend materials and used several types of media for their art. Similar to Robert Rauschenberg, whose best works anticipated the movement of pop art, artists Richard Hamilton and Tom Wesselmann combined disparate images into one canvas which created a thoroughly modern narrative form. Marisol is also known for sculptures that utilized many varieties of materials in order to represent figures.

  • Innovative techniques

Several pop artists engage themselves in printmaking processes which allows them to rapidly reproduce images in bulk. Andy Warhol utilized silkscreen printing. It is a process in which ink transfers onto canvas or paper through a mesh screen with the help of a stencil. The artist Roy Lichtenstein used printing or lithography from metals or stones to attain the signature visual style. 

The artists often got inspiration from the imagery of several areas of mainstream culture and blended them into their artwork either in original form or after making some alteration. Such type of appropriation art went hand in hand in order to break down the huge separation between low art and high art. It made the crucial distinction between media and advertisement from fine art.

Why is the Pop Art Movement So Unique?

When the artist Andy Warhol pointed out that other artists refused to appreciate all great modern art forms, which everyone else noticed, the attention drifted towards more towards modern art. The fact that the art at the past times was completely disconnected from real people and real-life portrays the reason for the pop art movement emerging so rapidly. Earlier, the obsession with brushstrokes created a surrounding of exclusivity. 

One of the major causes of pop art culture becoming so unique is that it focused on such realistic and relevant events or subject matter. It is a decision that is extremely detested by modernist critics. The pop artists worked on blurring the lines between high and low art by bridging all gaps between classical art and popular culture. They completely redefined the traditional parameters of art and changed the whole meaning of the artist.

The pop art movement was necessary as it allowed access to the art to the masses and not just to the elite class. As the art was highly inspired by cultural moments and commercial figures, the work was respected as well as recognized among the general public. At last, there came an art form that was not only pertinent but also accessible to everyone. In certain aspects, Pop art is the art for the people.

American Versus British Pop Art

American Pop Art

Pop art in America evolved a little bit different from its British counterpart. The pop art here was both reactions as well as the development of abstract expressionist painting. The art of abstract expressionism was the first art movement that achieved global acclaim but sooner in the 1950s, and it felt more introspective and elitist. Pop art evolved to make an attempt to reform this trend and to reintroduce image into the structural painting. It was a huge chance to bring back the obscurity of abstraction again into the world of reality. 

It was a model that was earlier tried and tested. During the time of Picasso, when the painting was becoming extremely abstract, then the artist collaged some images of the real world onto his art. Around 1955, two eminent artists laid the foundation of bridging between abstract expressionism and pop art. The artists were Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who were the forerunners of American pop art.

British pop Art

The pop word was initially coined by an art critic named Lawrence Alloway in the year 1954. It described a new art type that was heavily inspired by the imagery of popular culture. Lawrence Alloway, alongside other artists Edwardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, were among the founding members of an independent group. It was a collective of writers, artists, and architects who had radical approaches towards contemporary visual culture at the time of meetings at ICA between the year 1952 and 1955 in London. 

They were the British pop art forerunners. At their initial meeting with Edwardo provided a visual lecture named Bunk which means nonsense. This took an iconic view of the all-American lifestyle. It was illustrated in a series of collages inspired by American magazines that he got in the late 1940s. Bunk series, ‘I was a rich man’s Plaything’ were some of the works that included the word pop.

Some Famous Pop Artists

  1. Richard Hamilton: 

The artist is often labeled as the founding member of British pop art for the aims and ideals outlining the movement. Richard Hamilton believed that art is not just there to present in exhibitions and galleries but is simply a way of life. He then contributed to bringing art mainstream and not just in the exhibitions. The artist’s collage of 1956 named Just what is that makes today’s home so different, so appealing? is one of the pop art imagery ultimate catalog like newspapers, comics, advertising, food, appliances, packaging, television, the space age, and the movies.

Along with that, a black and white version of the collage was utilized as the cover of the catalog of the This is Tomorrow exhibition in 1956 at the Whitechapel gallery. It portrayed that people’s understanding of art and culture was reforming and also inspired many new generation pop artists.

  1. Andy Warhol:

One artist who actually personified pop art was Andy Warhol. The artist in the early years worked as a commercial artist, which derived inspiration from the mass culture imagery like newspapers, comics, TV, and many more. Warhol took the pop art culture to the status of museum art and is often referred to as the father of independent film. He utilized images of consumer products and celebrities to make art more interesting. The artist became famous for a series of soup cans and then did several other artworks.

  1. Roy Lichtenstein:

The artist adopted a style that was based on the mass communication visual vernaculars. It was a style of comic strips whose format was fixed. It required few black outlines, bold colors, and tones provided by Benday dots. It was a popular printing tone method in comic books in the 1950s and 60s. 

Lichtenstein’s art evolved so much as his work evolved from comic strips to more modernist art styles. In the artist’s early work ‘Expressionistic cubism … of cowboys and Indians’, there is a hint of Americana. His work attacked the sagging painting traditions when Lichtenstein created Look Mickey in 1951, a big cartoon image from the bubble gum wrappers. The uniqueness in comic strips brought a shock value and was soon appreciated by the galleries and collectors.

  1. Jasper Johns:

Early artworks of the artist questioned the understanding and perception of art. Jasper Johns never differentiated between object and subject in his work, art, or life for that matter. According to the artist, both were the same, and his belief to think of painting as a real representation and not an illusion made his work highly successful.

Johns was inspired by Dada’s ideas and especially the found objects of Marcel Duchamp, whose bicycle wheels and bottle racks challenged the art object definition. The artist’s artworks with visual ideas have several layers of meaning and entirely communicates on various levels.

  1. Robert Rauschenberg:

The artist blended materials as well as methods to create outstanding pop art collages. His art incorporated popular imagery of the time period in which he existed. Robert’s most remarkable work is Retroactive II which was created back in 1964. It was a silkscreen image portraying John F. Kennedy and an astronaut of NASA among many images mixed and combined in an interesting way.

Certain Pop Art Facts:

  • The pop art movement coincided with the youth culture and globalization of pop culture.
  • Pop art was initially called Propaganda art.
  • The first pop artwork was created in 1952 by a Scottish artist named Edwardo Paolozzi. It was a collage prepared from magazines named ‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything.’
  • Andy Warhol designed an iconic art piece for the velvet underground debut album named The Velvet Underground & Nico.
  • Pop art was greatly influenced by the Dada movement ideas.
  • A throwaway garment called The Souper Dress was inspired by the soup can series of Warhol, which was manufactured by the company Campbell soup in 1966-67.
  • The most expensive Warhol artwork was the Silver Car Crash which he made in 1963. In the year 2013, it was sold for $105 million.

Pop art spread across all facets of society, initially through artist collaboration in music and design, and later became the inspiration for new generations. As pop art represents every aspect of society and its reactions, the impact on everyone remains strong. In the beginning, the general public did not take it seriously, but later on, the pop art movement became one of the most recognizable movements.