Pop Art Movement
In this exploration of Pop Art I will cover the background of pop art and how it was established, the effect Andy Warhol had on the art movement and the world, his work and was the major influences of the time that sparked the beginnings of Pop Art.
The Pop Art movement began in the early 1950s in Britain and also spread to America by the 60s. Pop Art used everyday objects and took them out of their usual context, which makes viewers observe them without all the usual ideas and connotations that are linked to them. A prime example of this is by Andy Warhol who used a tin of soup which has no food relation to it so we can only focus on the colours, shapes, typography and style of the can. We no longer see the tin as a food item but now as a piece of artwork. Pop Art used representations of symbols, people and objects found in the popular culture especially in magazines. Pop Art replaced the destructive elements of the Dada art movement which concentrated on anti-war politics and creating anti-art cultural works.
The colours used in pop art are usually vivid and unnatural and often use objects such as adverts, everyday objects, comics and celebrities. The main colours used by pop artists are yellows, reds and blues. Pop art colours did not reflect the artists sensations however these colours refer to the popular culture of the time. These different cultures was the inspiration for Andy Warhol to experiment with techniques such as silk screen painting which was a popular technique at recreating Pop Art artwork.
Warhol started his life in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and grew up in the Great Depression in the industrial steel making city. Warhol showed a great talent of drawing from a young age which was enhanced due to being taken ill at the age of 6 and being unable to attend school. His mother and brothers would teach him the methods of drawing, tracing and printing images, and he kept drawing throughout his childhood. Warhol also made weekly visits to church which played a huge part in his development as an artist in his future, he would stare at golden screens which featured biblical characters. This combined with the movie stars that would appear in his magazines he read would be one of the big influences in his art.
It took time for Warhol to become noticed as a famous artists which was his ambition, he was stuck as an illustrator until he knew what he needed to do. He needed to make people comment on his work and changes people perspectives, he wanted to be controversial as he knew this would make his work widely known. Warhol was obsessed by the 1950s consumer revolution, especially within the supermarkets which fuelled the mass produced world around Warhol. He wanted to make art that reflected the mass produced world.
What Warhol could do was absorb everything and see it for how it truly was. He addressed the changes in society caused by the mass production happening, Warhol done this by using the mass produced items as his own work to show this. He started with Coca-Cola, one of the largest mass produced items around. This first painting showed Warhol’s painting skills and he left his fluid brushstrokes in to show this, and to show that it was a piece of art. What Warhol did next was the spark that ignited the Pop Art movement. He took his first idea and turned it into a mechanical, graphic piece of art with a stronger and much bolder style, this decision to turn a commercial object into a piece of art on a canvas depicted in this fashion was very important in the art world at the time. What Pop art stood for was that even commercial objects from everybody’s everyday lives can still be works of art.
Warhol’s next big piece of art was ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ which again focused on capitalism and consumer society and the mass production of every day life. Like Coca-cola, Campbell’s soup was available to everybody. Warhol had then changed what could be classified as art forever.
Some people did not believe that Pop Art was a true art movement as they thought that some pieces created seemed to be plagiarised/copied pieces of existing design. For example Warhol’s ‘Brillo Box’ which was an extremely controversial piece in the whole of art history. What he has essentially done was make a complete replica of an existing commercial product, the Brillo box, and made printed plywood copies. He also done the same with apple juice cartons and Cornflakes and ketchup bottles. In my opinion I do find this to be art. I like the controversy behind it and it makes people debate and look at these objects from different angles which I believe is what art is really about. I can see why people judge Warhol as a ‘fake’ as it is not original, but who has defined art as being original? I think Warhol is a brilliant creative as he made the mass produced world that everyone transparently sees through, not noticing what Warhol has brought to light. In opposite argument to this Warhol also hired carpenters to help him produce them which was why people were outraged by this whole event. People started to like Warhol’s work because of the persona he was creating. He was presenting himself as a mysterious character, especially in interviews where he infuriated people with open answers that did not clarify what he meant by his art.
The next thing I would like to cover about Warhol is his work ‘The Marilyns’. Warhol decided to make silkscreen prints of her after her death. The first silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe makes her look precious and pure, similarly to the religious, biblical gold leaf characters he would see at church when he was younger. The edges of the silkscreen print are smudged and blurred that creates an eery atmosphere around the print. In a BBC documentary it was said that Warhol done this to represent the mask that was Marilyn’s glistening celebrity appearance that the media had created, that hid the sadness and loneliness of her real life. ‘By repeating the image, he evokes her ubiquitous presence in the media. The contrast of vivid colour with black and white, and the effect of fading in the right panel are suggestive of the star’s mortality’ (Tate Modern). This second silkscreen work by Warhol combines themes of celebrity and death to represent the transition of her being in one life to the next. I think this really represents mortality of Monroe as she is fading away into her death. I like the themes of celebrity and death as celebrity is about immortality, as being famous is still a constant after death. This is why I love Warhol’s ideas as they are so creative and people who criticises Warhol’s work tend to not see this deep and purposeful meaning of his work.
I also think the Marilyn’s relate back to Warhol’s idea of the whole mass production of life. Marylin Monroe is just an example of how the media also churns out celebrities much like the brands Warhol turned into works of art. Her public life was so mass produced in magazines and the media which I think Warhol was try to say through his artwork.
I think the whole Pop Art movement is very influential even in our present times where the world revolves around the mass production of commercial objects and the media. I like the fact that Warhol quoted ‘In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes’ (1968, Stockholm), which couldn’t be more true in todays society where social media can literally make anybody world famous in a matter of minutes.
https://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/themes/pop-art (29th May)
http://www.neatorama.com/2012/08/31/Andy-Warhols-Soup/ (29th, 30th May)
http://www.warhola.com/biography.html (30th May)
http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/warhol-marilyn-diptych-t03093 (1st June)
Mark Livingstone – Pop Art, A Continuing History –
Tilman Osterworld – POP ART (Taschen 2007)