Introduction to Pop Art
Pop Art emerged in the 1950s across the western world and combined visual arts with the commercial world, acknowledging the rise of media and advertising in our lives, and finding ways to use it as artistic inspiration. This departure from traditional art polarised opinions, just as with all forms of contemporary art, in a similar manner to the likes of Minimalism, Conceptual Art and Street Art. Today, Pop Art entirely retains its popularity and feels surprisingly modern, despite more than five decades having passed since it first emerged.
Advertising poster designs, comic books, consumer products, and celebrity personalities inspired much of the content found in Pop Art, and it helped draw people into the art world, who otherwise may have been put off by the more traditional work of previous centuries. Success was achieved predominantly with the US and UK, with their best ideas later spreading to other nations, along with much of the western culture that lied behind these works.
There is also discussion within the article about the influence of Pop Art on Japanese art, as well as the rise of Italian and German art in the latter part of the 20th century, where question marks around commercialisation were also raised. There would also be a blurring of lines between painting and sculpture as a result of some of the work of American Pop artists.
List of Famous Pop Artists
We have provided a list of the most famous Pop Artists below, along with discussion on several aspects about the history of the Pop Art movement, including its emergence in the 1950s, as well as how it has lasted to the present day, and where the movement could head in the future. It remains one of the most important developments in 20th century art, and provided us with some of the biggest and most influential names in that era.
There are a number of painters and illustrators featured below who would also become involved in other art movements during their careers, but our short summaries of their work will focus on their achievements within the Pop Art era. There is enough variety in the list to understand the different artistic techniques, styles and inspirations which were collectively involved in the group.
Roy Lichtenstein brought together cartoons and mainstream art with a memorable style that helped him to become known as one of the major stars of the Pop Art movement. Although he later became involved in sculpture, successfully, most still remember the artist for his highly impactful poster-style designs in which various characters would be accompanies by speech bubbles in order to tell the viewer a story about their lives.
Lichtenstein produced an illustration-style to his work, with large plains filled with clear colors, in a similar manner to advertisements posters in which viewers may be some distance away. He therefore reduced detail to a minimum, often capturing single portraits of individuals in a moment of deep thought or emotional distress. Yellow, white and red were dominant colors within these works, alnogside the use of blue. One of the artist's biggest achievements was in making us re-consider what actually is considered art, blurring the lines with commercial illustration and cartoons.
Keith Haring was a part of the rise of modern art in New York, and possessed a charming, unqiue style in which illustration-style imagery would be repeated across different artworks. He used line art to produce human figures, as well as repeating other symbols such as hearts in a positive approach which made use of bright tones and felt entirely contemporary. Much of his work resembled graffiti art which also emerged at around the same time, but he bridged the gap between street art and commercial success.
Having made the move across into mainsteam art galleries, his work rose in value and today his artworks enjoy huge valuations. Haring was also involved in activism, and pushed a number of causes within his work. Haring remains amongst the most popular Pop artists of all, and his style is immediately recognisable thanks to a consistent approach across multiple decades.
David Hockney was the leading British Pop artist, but has since been involved in a variety of other modern art movements. He has been particularly impressive in portraiture, as well as landscape art and has recently turned to Digital art, producing a number of scenes of the countryside via a tablet. This innovative artist continues to work productively and now boasts a huge body of work, dating back many decades. His time as a Pop artist arrived relatively early on in his career.
His best known works includes Garrowby Hill, A Bigger Splash, Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy and Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), and he is also a highly skilled draughtsman and printmaker. Hockney's exhibitions continue to be attended in huge numbers, and he remains one of the most popular British artists in history, with interest in his work continuing to grow on the global stage.
Jasper Johns has had a wide and varied career, taking in styles such as abstract expressionism, Neo-Dada, and pop art. Some of his best known work included Flags, Numbers, Maps, Stenciled Words, Targets, much of which came about in the 1950s and 1960s, early on in his career. Many of these artworks were simple, impactful designs with bold color and reduced detail. His re-interpretation of flags was particularly well regarded and he continued to innovate for many decades after these ground-breaking pieces.
Jasper Johns has received a large number of awards across his lifetime, particularly since the turn of the century after which abstract art has been fully integrated into mainstream art circles and institutions. In line with the quality and impact of his work, many of his paintings today command huge valuations at auction, whenever they come up for sale and he is regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th and 21st century.
Andy Warhol is seen by many as the leading Pop Art artist, and was a talented printmaker. He used many inspirations from modern culture, including notable celebrities, to produce impactful art which helped him to become one of the most famous artists in history.
Robert Rauschenberg used unusual combinations of objects within his art of the 1950s and 1960s to help bring about the Pop Art movement. He worked as both a painter and sculptor, and many of his creations blurred the lines between these two artistic disciplines. He used elements such as plastic, metal and oil with silkscreen printing, and even items from everyday life to produce thought-provoking arrangements of contemporary art. Mixed media art emerged as a major force in the second half of the 20th century and Robert Rauschenberg was a major part of that.
Richard Hamilton was a London artist who was a major force within British Pop Art. He was educated in formal art schools, but eventually chose to work in an entirely contemporary manner, pushing boundaries within the mainstream. Major exhibitions of his work appeared as early as the 1970s, and so he remained in the spotlight for many decades before his recent passing. Hamilton's artistic style was varied, though there was a notable use of items from consumer society, which was entirely in keeping with the approach taken by Pop Artists, even though they often worked independently of each other.
James Rosenquist combined elements of advertising and pop culture with the fundamentals of fine art to emerge in the 1960s art scene. He tended to work independently, and very much forged his own creative path over a number of decades. Retrospectives of his work arrived as early as the 1970s, and he was warmly welcomed by a number of major American art galleries, who exhibited his work. The artist's earliest creations resembled the Abstract Expressionist movement, before he evolved into the Pop artist, for which he remains most well known today.
Claes Oldenburg was a Modern artist and part of Pop Art sculpture, leaving behind an inspirational and influential oeuvre. The Swede relocated to the US in order to receive an education and would later take advantage of the opportunities found here within contemporary art. His work is best remembered for inventive outdoor installations which enlarged and re-composed everyday objects, including bottles and bowling pins. Other sculptures were more abstract and conceptual, and Claes Oldenburg remains one of the most famous Pop Art sculptors, with most members of this movement being involved in painting and mixed media visual art.
Peter Blake is a famous British Pop Artist who has been exhbiting since the 1960s. He is bset known by many for his work on album sleeves, designing covers for a host of famous musical acts, most of which are to be found in the Pop Music genre. These collaborations included with The Beatles, The Who and Paul Weller. In terms of independent artworks, Blake also produced a number of modern, imactful pieces such as The First Real Target from 1961 which is entirely typical of the Pop Art movement.
The Birth of Pop Art: Historical Context and Influences
Pop Art arose amidst the post-WWII era, during which there was huge changes across society in the western world, particularly economic, social and political. Consumer culture took off in the 1950s and 1960s, and this inspired the earliest Pop Artists. New consumer products was accompanied by an influx of print and television advertising which the public were relatively unprepared for, helping to drive sales and interest.
Pop Art was not about personal expression, but more about looking around society and commenting on what was occuring. This contrasted against other movements of the time, such as Abstract Expressionism, which were very much focused on the inner mind of the artist. This difference perhaps made it easier for Pop Artists to connect with the public, with their work being impactful and immediate, with little explanation required in most cases.
There would also be some areas in which the theories behind Pop Art would be discussed, such as in the UK with The Independent Group, whilst the US played a firm role in evolving the specific artistic techniques that would be used to visualize many of these ideas. There was also plenty of room for freedom and expression within this movement, without the constraints and arguments found in some 20th century art collectives.
Pop Art vs. Traditional Art: Challenging Artistic Conventions
Pop Art was also about celebrating the everyday, using elements that we were already familiar with in our everyday lives, such as consumer products and advertising. Traditional art had focused instead on historical or religious content, mythology and nature as seen from the artist's emotional state, though this had already started to change from the start of the 20th century. Perhaps the Realism movement of the 19th century was also an early outlier in this practice, focusing on the lives of ordinary folk in rural settings, who previously would rarely feature within fine art.
The techniques of Pop Art were also different, making use of screen-printing, collage, and assemblage techniques, which some considered elements of commercial production and therefore inappropriate for art. Over time, attitudes would change and the brilliance of their work would be better understood. Today, many are inspired by such techniques, and feel able to produce their own work, after training.
The Role of Consumerism in Pop Art: Critiquing Mass Production
Brands, logos, and consumer goods would appear within Pop Art, bringing highly familiar items into the art industry for the first time. This helped to widen the scope of art to attract more visitors, who could easily connect with works and themes such as this. It also was more fashionable and fresh with younger audiences, and the 1950s and 1960s were all about challenging societal norms, and looking forwards after the damaging era of the 1940s.
The products were used not to encourage commercialism and consumerism, but rather to make the point that such products would not fulfil one's dreams, and that there was a shallowness to any society that embraced consumerism too aggressively. Many today would agree with these sentiments, and suggest that things have gotten far worse in recent decades. One might draw a comparison with the Pre-Raphaelites from the 19th century, who even then were warning about mass production, and the loss of crafting skills.
The British Pop Art Scene: From the Independent Group to Peter Blake
The Independent Group contained a collective of critics, artists and architects and was based in London, UK. They were concerned about commercialisation, and regularly met to discuss these issues within society. This is partly where the Pop Art movement would emerge from, alongside new ideas appearing in the US at about the same time. Over time, a number of musicians would start to hold similar concerns, and these would be a cross over between the two groups, including in the form of music album covers.
Pop Art's Influence on Advertising: Bold Graphics and Slogans
Pop Art and modern advertising had considerable influences on each other. Pop Art encouraged advsertisers to understand the importance of delivering impact immediately, and providing content that would appeal to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. Artists showed the importance of lettering, symbols and color, and how a lot could be achieved with relatively minimal detail. Many of these ideas were not new, such as in poster design, but the inclusion of products within Pop Art gave very clear guidance to how advertisers might market their own products and services.
There would also be the uses of humor and satire which advertisers took for their own commercial work, as they understood new ways of communicating their messages to different audiences. Advertising had up to then being relatively traditional and formal, with contemporary artists encouraging advertisers to create more interesting, quirky adverts which could better resonate with younger audiences, depending on the nature of each product.
Beyond Paintings: Pop Art Sculptures and Installations
Sculpture was an ideal medium for the Pop Art movement, allowing physical products to be included, and re-purposed into sculptures. Claes Oldenburg, as mentioned elsewhere in this article, is a good example of this and re-purposed different objects but altered their size, angle and composition. It was fun, quirky and thought-provoking, and also helped to bring sculpture to the masses, with many outdoor installations included in his career. Tom Wesselmann was another key artist who started to merge the sculpture and painting mediums, forcing us to to re-consider just what exactly they might involve.
The Global Spread of Pop Art: International Movements and Artists
The role of the US and UK is discussed at length within this article, but Pop Art would spread far beyond these national boundaries. Japan was another important contributor, thanks to the work of the likes of Yayoi Kusama and Tadanori Yokoo who took the original ideas and created their own takes. These brilliant, creative powerhouses would drive Japanese contemporary art onwards for several decades and eventually start to influence western artists in the opposite direction.
Germany was a key region for modern art, and institutions and corporations here would regularly commission the leading American modern artists to produce installations for their architectural projects. Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter worked on similar theories to the Pop artists within the Capitalist Realism movement. Mario Schifano and Mimmo Rotella helped to form the Italian Pop Art movement, whilst in Latin America we saw the likes of Eduardo Costa, Dalila Puzzovio, Antonio Dias, and Wanda Pimentel.
Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism: Diverging Artistic Directions
Abstract Expressionism featured the likes of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko and would run alongside Pop Art as the two major art movements just after the mid-way point of the 20th century. Over time, however, they would diverge. The two would differ in their connection to the artist and the content of each artwork, and could therefore co-exist without impacting each other.
Pop Art would slowly become about representing reality in the modern world, where as Abstract Expressionism was allowing artists to express themselves by any creative means necessary, which brought drip painting and other innovations to the market. Both tended to use bold, bright colours and create considerable impact with their work, but in most cases the two were pretty independent of each other.
Pop Art's Legacy in Contemporary Art: Influence on New Generations
Perhaps the greatest legacy from Pop Art was in how it has allowed art to become much more inclusive, and less elitist than previously would have been the case. Whilst most modern artists continue to be from wealthy backgrounds, there is a wider scope of individuals involved today. This was encouraged by the emergence of Pop Art, which challenged artistic norms in many different ways.
We continue to see its early impact in that regard evolve, and today we are starting to see exhibitions in the western world becoming much more varied in their content and style, representing the changing demography of nations such as the US and parts of western Europe. Whilst Pop Art did not feature as many women artists as some other modern art movements, it still helped to encourage promotion of their work, by generally widening the exposure of mainstream art.
The collaging and assembling of different everyday objects has also been continued onwards by later generations of artists, and whilst these ideas already existed from earlier 20th century movements, Pop Art helped to encourage more people to work in this manner. Today we find all sorts of weird and wonderful creations, perticularly in Conceptual and Installation Art, and so the legacy continues to influence others.