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Pop Art: The explosion of celebrity culture, consumerism and widespread icons, from the 1950s/60s up until today.

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Pop Art is a tremendously influential movement that originally began between the 1950s and ‘60s. It spoke to the masses - rather than to individuals – with its focus on the simplified language of post-war consumerism.

 

What is Pop Art?

At its core Pop Art is Commercial Art, a reproduceable Art form of the seemingly eternal icons for the masses, developed on the streets, outside of the galleries of the elite, and from the symbols of daily life. 

Artists started to use symbols and references which were a direct reference to everyday products, brands, and mass symbols - the ‘culture’ which was influencing people’s lives, views and habits. These ‘icons of modern-day society’ represented the world in which these artists – and people in general - grew up.

The brands, images and faces of Hollywood stars were seen everywhere, recognisable in adverts, on the shelves of the local supermarket or in the kitchen cupboard. They were the omnipresent visual symbols of ‘Pop Culture’.

In the 1950s-60s, the ‘star-system’ - the world of celebrity culture that began in the 1920s with the big stars of Hollywood starting from the pre-war years - reached its pinnacle. There was a sense of ‘Pop Culture’, surrounding the big names and their image. And now it affected both the works of contemporary artists and the lives of the artists themselves. Fame became central.

By starting to use the common symbols and icons, realising the effect of these strong images, artists soon became stars themselves. More than ever before, the Art World was a world of celebrities. 

Who are the most influential artists of Pop Art

1. Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

Andy Warhol is probably the most influential figure of Pop Art. He became a renowned celebrity himself. Understanding ‘star-culture’, advertisement and the effect of the media, he made these the core of his work – and life as an artist. His studio, also known as the Factory, became a hive for artistic celebrities of the time, attracting other powerful personalities and resonating the effect of the Andy Warhol ‘brand’.

We can see him as the complete representation of this culture and movement. With his distinctive and very personal style, Warhol gave voice to celebrity culture like nobody else and his works still influence art, fashion and design today. 

For instance, Director Gus Van Sant has recently announced he is working on a musical, ‘Andy’ to celebrate this legendary figure! It will also include a duet with Warhol and the Art Critic Clement Greenberg, as if to mark his anti-conventional character and importance for the Art World. In May 2021, five Andy Warhol’s works were sold at auction in the form of NFTs, as the result of a collaboration between The Andy Warhol Foundation and Christie’s auction house.

Related articles: The Thousand Faces of Warhol 

 

n.d., Recreation of Andy Warhol’s Amiga 1000 displaying a digital self-portrait, n.d., Courtesy of the Warhol Museum and Artnet.com

 

2. Keith Haring (1958-1990)

American Keith Allen Haring started as a Street Artist, leaving marks and messages on the streets and in the subway in New York. As he stated: “My dad made cartoon characters for me, and they were very similar to the way I started to draw—with one line and a cartoon outline”.

He first studied Commercial Art at Pittsburgh, and then feeling the need to move away he left the school to go to New York City where he became known as one of the great figures of Graffiti Art and Pop Art. His extremely recognisable imagery was speaking for the subculture of the 1980s, advocating for AIDS awareness and drug abuse. His work was even exhibited in the Whitney Biennial and Venice Biennale.

In April 1986, Haring opened the Pop Shop in Soho, selling merchandise featuring his work. Criticised for this, he stated “I could earn more money if I just painted a few things and jacked up the price. My shop is an extension of what I was doing in the subway stations, breaking down the barriers between high and low art." 

Related articles: Keith Haring's Largest Mural in Europe - The last case of Keith Haring's mural - Well Beyond Lines. Keith Haring meets Jean Micheal Basquiat

 

Tseng Kwong Chi, Photo of Keith Haring at his Pop Shop, n.d., Courtesy of The Keith Haring Foundation ©Keith Haring Foundation/ Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York.

 

3. Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Roy Fox Lichtenstein is one of the fathers of the Pop Art movement. His works are characterised by a very unique style, making him one of the leading artists. In November 2015, Christie’s sold Lichtenstein’s ‘Nurse’ for a record $95.4 million.

In this piece, as well as in other works, we can see how the enlarged imagery of adverts and comics with recognisable characters, highlights the irony of the images and situations which absurdly depict every-day life.

This artist defined Pop art not as 'American' painting, but as ‘Industrial’ painting. It was disruptive, inspired by comics featuring war and romantic stories, “anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong […] opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques".

 

Roy Lichtenstein, I Know… Brad (1963)

 

4. Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004)

American artist Tom Wesselmann, whose work has seen a renewed interest in the years following his death, worked in sculpture, painting and collage. He gave a strong poetic twist to the common subjects of Pop Art. 

In his practice, he studied traditional themes, such as the nude, still life and landscape, blending them with publicity and everyday objects. His work combines realistic objects with surreal, dreamy and illusionistic spaces, made with strong chromatic surfaces.

 

Tom Wesselmann, Double page headpiece (pages 72-73) from 1¢ Life, 1964, Courtesy of MOMA ©Tom Wesselmann/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

 

5. Mimmo Rotella (1918-2006)

Italian artist Domenico Rotella, also known as Mimmo Rotella, was an incredibly active artist in the second half of the 20th century. He is considered one of the most important figures of post-war European art. 

Close to Ultra-Lettrists, Nouveau Réalisme and even the Pop Art movement, he combined pieces of adverts and posters in his décollage works. For this technique he used a series of stripped and torn posters, assembling them to create a tremendously expressive and powerful aesthetic. 

 

Related articles: The life and work of Mimmo Rotella-The origin of Italian Pop Art

 

Mimmo Rotella, Sempre lei Marilyn (2002), décollage on canvas

 

6. Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)

Robert Rauschenberg was an American graphic artist, photographer, printmaker, painter and performance artist. According to some he anticipated the Pop Art movement, however, he has been described as a ‘Neo-Dadaist’.

According to him, “painting relates to both art and life” – and his aim was to work “in the gap between the two”. Rauschenberg collected discarded objects on the streets of New York City, incorporating them in his work. He even introduced found pictures in his paintings by using serigraphy to transpose them on the canvas – a technique which was widely used by Pop Artists.

 

Robert Rauschenberg, Estate (1963), oil and silkscreen in on canvas. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art 

 

7. Richard Hamilton (1922-2011)

Richard Hamilton was a leading figure of the British generation of Pop Art artists. Like many other artists of this movement, his roots in Commercial Art had a great impact on his work.

His collage “Just What is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” (1956) was used as the main image for the poster and catalogue of an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, giving him an incredible amount of visibility and underlining the importance of his work. He was also part of the ‘Independent Group’, which had a strong role in the British Pop Art movement.

 

Richard Hamilton, Just what was it that made yesterdays homes so different, so appealing? (1956), collage.
Courtesy of the Tate collection

 

8. James Rosenquist (1933-2017)

Another extremely important and famous Pop Art artist is with no doubt James Rosenquist. He can be considered one of the strongest and most influential modern Pop Art artists, along with Warhol and Lichtenstein.

His work dived deep into cinematography and advertising, drawing from his background in sign painting. James Rosenquist employed techniques which are conventionally used to create Commercial Art. His works appear as an overwhelming mixture of fragmented images of current icons, everyday objects and popular foods - giant lipsticks or spaghetti.

 

James Rosenquist, President-Elect, 1960-61/1964, oil on linen. Centre Pompidou, Paris

 

9. Robert Indiana (1928-2018)

American artist Robert Indiana created world-famous iconic works, which still have a strong influence on Design. Scenographer and costume designer, he had an incredibly interesting career. 

He used flashy bold words, like ‘EAT’ or ‘HOPE’. Highlighting the commercial aspect of these eye-catching short words, the Pop aspect is clear in his work. His most iconic piece is “LOVE” (1970), a sculpture that became widely known and replicated. 

 

Robert Indiana, LOVE, print from the famous sculpture “LOVE” (New York City)

 

10. Mel Ramos (1935-2018)

Artist Mel Ramos was an American figurative painter, whose family was originally Portuguese-Azorean. An exponent of Pop Art and a university professor, his works often were of the female nude, mixing abstract and realist aspects. 

His works were presented alongside those by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, and exhibited in many group shows. He was actually one of the first to depict comic book strips. A certain irony can be found in his works – distinguishing him from other Pop artists. In fact, his symbols and subjects take a slightly different meaning to those found in works of others.

 

Mel Ramos, Chiquita Banana (1969), polychrome enamel

 

11. Hariton Pushwagner (1940-2018)

Terje Brofos, who’s artist name was Hariton Pushwagner, was a Norwegian Pop Artist. He was a Graphic artist and painter – and even a tennis player. After his studies at the State’s School of Art and Design in Olso, he spent many years struggling to find his personal style before becoming famous for his work.

His works show cartoonish images, partially derived by his fascination with Nowegian author Axel Jensen’s work. They have a strong bold graphic quality to them, and present impressive narratives.

 

Hariton Pushwagner, Re Traversa (Soft city) (1969), print on paper

 

12. Billy Apple (1935-2021)

Billy Apple, born Barrie Bates, was a painter and sculptor from New Zealand. His works have been strongly connected to the American and British schools of Pop Art of the 1960s, and the Conceptual Art of the 1970s. He even collaborated with many Pop artists, including Andy Warhol.

Creating his own persona after studying at London’s Royal College of Art, he bleached his hair and eyebrows – making a recognisable image. He was one of the first artists to create neon artworks, and also opened an alternative studio. It was a meeting point for many artists, such as those of Fluxus and many Conceptual Artists.

 

Billy Apple, Vertical Progressive, 1963, Courtesy of Wikiart.org ©Billy Apple. 

 

13. Wayne Thiebaud (1920-current)

Wayne Thiebaud is a vastly recognised artist, especially for his works depicting everyday objects found in diners and cafeterias. Although he is often referred to as a famous Pop Art artist, he sometimes is said to be different from the pop culture due to the distinct painting technique he has adopted. 

Strongly against labels such as ‘fine art’ and ‘commercial art’, he did not see himself as a Pop artist. He despised the ‘flat’ and ‘mechanical’ aspect of Pop Art, however, his subjects often had a strong connection to this Art movement.

 

Wayne Thiebaud, Pankake Breakfast (2008), oil on canvas

 

14. Alex Katz (1927-current)

Alex Katz is an American figurative artist, known for his sculptural, pictorial and print works. He has never stopped creating fresh and influential works - nowadays belonging to some of the most prestigious displays, collections and museums. 

Originally from New York and of Jewish descent, Alex Katz became well-known in the 1980s. He developed a unique style which is linked both to Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, and is particularly well-known for his large-scale flat and bold colourful paintings.

 

Alex Katz, Coca-Cola Girls (2018), archival pigment ink on white paper. Courtesy of Timothy Tailor

 

15. Yayoi Kusama (1929-current)

Japanese Contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama is an incredibly important living artist. Rooting her practice in Conceptual Art, Feminism, Minimalism, Surrealism, Art Brut, Abstract Expressionism and (of course) Pop Art, her works cover sculpture, installation, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction and painting. 

Yayoi Kusama moved to New York City in 1958, attracted to the powerful and vivid American Pop Art scene, but since then she has returned to Japan. She implemented her studies about infinity with her all-around sculptures, and often touches on autobiographical, psychological and sexual content in her work. 

Related articles: The Yayoi Kusama mania!

 

Yayoi Kusama, the artist with her work “Tentacles" (2012-2015)

 

16. Claes Oldenburg (1929-current)

Originally from Sweden, Claes Oldenburg is a sculptor. He is known for his giant replicas or soft versions of immediately recognisable objects of everyday life. 

His main focus was food and the way it has been devalued – shifting from a primary necessity to a commercial product. Many of his works were made with his wife Coosje van Bruggen.

The choice of analysing symbols of mass consumption as subjects for his sculptures makes Claes Oldenburg a perfect example of a modern Pop Art artist. In 1960-61, he even rented a shop to then fill it with painted plaster copies of food, clothing, jewellery and other items in his work ‘The Store’.

 

Claes Oldenburg, Floor Burger (1962). Courtesy of the MOMA, New York

 

17. Jasper Johns (1930-current)

American painter, sculptor and printmaker Jasper Johns is linked to Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada and Pop Art. Born in South Carolina, in Allendale, he moved to New York in 1949, when he decided to study for a few semesters at Parson’s Design School. He soon entered the Art scene with some works that brought up an inedited relation between real and painted images.

He is well-known for his works which represent the American flag. But his works also focus on lettering, newspaper prints, numbers, textures and maps. His pieces have often had the title of most paid work by a living artist, reaching record prices at auction.

 

Jasper Johns, Three Flags (1958), oil on canvas. Whitney Museum of American Art

 

18. Peter Blake (1932-current)

Peter Blake is a famous British Pop artist. His work used elements from advertising and often used collage to include distinct symbols and popular references.

He was the creator of the famous album cover of The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’, two of The Who’s albums, the cover of a Band Aid single, a Live Aid poster – and worked on many other remarkable commissions. In 2002, he was knighted for his services to the Arts at Buckingham Palace.

 

 

Peter Blake, 100 Sources of Pop Art

 

19. James Gill (1934-current)

American Artist James Gill is seen as a central figure of Pop Art. He is especially well-known for his ‘Marilyn Triptych’ (1962), which entered the MOMA’s permanent collection in 1962.

James Gill’s works are based on the central Pop themes of Celebrity Culture and the icons of modern-day life – however they are strongly political. In his work there is a critical level, casting a grim and melancholic light onto important social and political themes, among which the Vietnam War. 

However, after retiring from the Arts for nearly 30 years and returning in 2010, now his works focus much more on the pop imagery of celebrities, technically blending realism and abstraction in a much more serene way.

 

James Francis Gill, Three Faces of Marilyn (2014), acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of Galerie Urs Reichlin

 

20. Jim Dine (1935-current)

Another incredibly famous artist is Jim Dine, with more than 300 solo exhibitions in important institutions. His work includes painting, drawing, printmaking, sculpture and photography – but even assemblage and happenings in his early works. 

He is associated with many different artforms - Neo-Dada and Abstract Expressionism, as well as Pop Art. In fact, like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, he was part of the New Dada movement – resisting his association to Pop Art and this movement’s typical celebration of icons. Questioning the power of iconic symbols, he developed a vocabulary of simple symbols such as tools, hearts and birds – universally recognisable and even childlike.

 

Jim Dine, A Sign of its Pale Color, Tenderness (2015). Courtesy of Artribune

 

21. David Hockney (1937-current)

Returning to the British Pop Art scene, we encounter David Hockney’s work. Painter, draftsman, printmaker, stage designer and photographer, Hockney is one of the most prominent British Pop artists. 

His painting style combines a figurative idea with the vibrant pop colour palette, creating extremely expressive settings that are still highly recognisable. In fact, his works are extremely popular, breaking sales records multiple times – such as with his 90-million-dollar painting “Double Portrait”, sold at Christie’s in 2018. 

Related articles: A great start for Sotheby's London-The Gaston Lévy Collection

 

 

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972

 

22. Ed Ruscha (1937-current)

Now living and working in California and represented by the Gagosian Gallery, Edward Ruscha is an American artist. His works span photography, painting, drawing, printmaking and film. His main influences were Jasper Johns, Marcel Duchamp and Edward Hopper. 

Graduating from the Chouinard Art Institute in 1960 and collaborating with many big names, his early works are greatly connected to the Pop Art movement and the Beat Generation. But they also incorporate aspects of Dada, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Conceptual Art as well.

 

 

Edward Ruscha, Trademark #5 (20th Century Fox), 1999

 

23. Peter Max (1937-current)

Peter Max is a German American artist, whose work is recognizable for the use of vivid colours and the visual imagery, Culture and Aesthetics from the 1960s. His work has been associated with Psychedelic, Counter-Culture, Neo-Expressionism and Pop Art influences in Graphic Design.

He has often incorporated many icons and symbols in his work. Thanks to the popularity of his timely style, he has collaborated with musicians - such as Bob Dylan, and had numerous commissions – like the first ‘Preserve the Environment’ postage stamp.

 

Peter Max, Marilyn, from the retrospective “The Collected Works 1960-2017

 

24. Jeff Koons (1955-current)

Talking about mass consumption and collective icons, we cannot forget to mention American artist Jeff Koons. Although this artist emerges later than other artists, his Neo-Pop shapes can be seen as close relatives of Andy Warhol’s iconic artworks.

His works echo Pop Art, not only for their colourfulness, but also for the monumentality and influential power that they have. His kitsch and colourful sculptures – among which the well-known works ‘Rabbit’, ‘Puppy’ and ‘Balloon Dog’ - uniquely readdress the positive society for which they were created. 

Related articles: Jeff Koons and the Post-Pop Art Age

 

Jeff Koons, Popeye (2009-2011), mirror polished stainless steel with transparent color coating.
Courtesy of Sonnabend Gallery, New York

 

25. George Condo (1957-current)

Also working at Andy Warhol’s Factory for a period, George Condo is a contemporary visual artist, working in painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking. He is a highly respected artist that used the Pop narrative to create a style of his own.

In the 80s, he coined the term ‘Artificial Realism’ to describe his early work – “the realistic representation of that which is artificial” – meeting the paintings by the Old European Masters with American Pop Art. In his most recent work, Condo’s paintings interpret human-like figures in a humorous, grotesque and cartoonish world. Still dominating the contemporary art scene, he refers to this line of work as ‘Psychological Cubism’.

 

George Condo, The Cracked Cardinal (2001), oil on canvas

 

26. Nara Yoshimoto (1959-current)

Nara Yoshimoto is an active Japanese artist living in Tokyo. His work represents simple figures with cartoonish features. Appearing harmless, like children or domestic animals, but with contrasting expressions, poses or holding weapons, they often result unsettling.

In a similar fashion to another artist, Takashi Murakami – Yoshimoto’s work has been defined as ‘superflat’ and ‘pop’ – expanding the iconography, cultural icons and symbols that we conventionally associate with early Pop Art works.

Related articles: Walk don't run* with a knife in your hand! Yoshimoto Nara

 

Nara Yoshimoto, Knife Behind Back (2000), oil on canvas

 

27. Takashi Murakami (1962-current)

Contemporary artist Takashi Murakami is an important figure both for Pop Art and Japanese Culture. Painter, sculptor, and commercial artist, Murakami developed artworks inspired by his country’s iconography – clouding the boundaries between high and low Art.

Originally from Tokyo, his artistic style presents returning motifs and anime inspired characters depicted in bright colours on big surfaces, or in the form of life-sized sculptures. He coined the term ‘superflat’, used to describe the Japanese aesthetic tradition – and since then it has been applied to his works.

Related articles: Takashi Murakami's Global Tribe

 

Takeshi Murakami, Mr. dub And Bunny, digital art (2019)

 

28. Damien Hirst (1965-current)

The remarkably controversial figure of English artist, entrepreneur and collector Damien Hirst has undoubtedly dominated the Art scene. He won the Turner Prize in 1995, curated the art show ‘Freeze’ while studying, giving form to the successful group YBAs (Young British Artists) in the 1990s.

His conceptual works have a strong effect on audiences world-wide – making them most definitely Pop. Just like Andy Warhol, Death is an important theme for his work. Often adopting Pop Art aesthetics, using symbols, powerful images or controversial icons he alludes to the world of consumption.

Related articles: Talking “Trash” in Contemporary Art-When food and fashion becomes fine art 

 

Damien Hirst, Skull with Clocks in Eyes (2008), household gloss on canvas.
Courtesy of Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. 

 

29. Banksy

Anonymous street artist Banksy is probably the most popular artist nowadays. His fame is worldwide due to his Street Art works and his provocative approach. His style is of strong Street Art derivation and his main mediums are spray paint and stencils. His works tackle current social and political situations.

Even though he cannot directly be classified as a Pop Art artist, his works are strongly influenced by popular images, Pop Art and consumerist symbols – with his most iconic works becoming reproduceable icons themselves.

 Related articles: Is Blek le Rat still influencing Banksy?-The the mysterious story of the stolen Banksy

Banksy, Girl With Balloon (2006). Courtesy of Sotheby's

 

30. Niclas Castello (1978-current)

A Contemporary artist, strongly influenced by Pop Art, is German Niclas Castello. Inspired by Street artist Invader, and initially a Street artist himself, his works are powerful and iconic, related to fashion and consumerism.

He became renowned thanks to ‘The Kiss’ sculptures which have a similar monumental stance to Jeff Koons’ glossy and metallic balloons or Claes Oldenburg’s giant replicas of everyday objects. In general, his works combine Neo-Expressionist and Street Art influences, as well as the Neo-Pop variation of other famous Pop art artists’ subjects.

 

Niclas Castello, The Kiss (Shiny Red) (2013-2015). Courtesy of Guy Hepner

 

What can we define as Pop Art today? 

Many names are still recognisable now. The Pop artists’ works have become even more widespread. In fact, even though the end of this movement is connected to the tragic death of Andy Warhol, many aspects of the culture and the important artworks are still influential today.

Nevertheless, Pop Art is not only about the repeated colourful silkscreen prints of Campbell’s Soup Cans. It is a very diverse movement – which still speaks for the consumeristic society of icons, symbols and brands of our contemporary world. 

Different techniques, such as oil paints, acrylics, lithography, drawings, graphics, sculptures, textiles – the boundaries of Pop Art are difficult to define.

Is Pop Art dead? 

Unquestionably, Pop Art has had an enormous amount of success, influencing the vocabulary of many contemporary artists all over the world. From the 1960s up until today, society has been greatly focused on celebrities, mass production and consumption.

However, today Neo-Pop works present similar objects and subjects but in an elevated way to those with which Pop started. The world of Street Art has become more focused on the icons of modern day and graphic images of publicity. Just like Pop, it is elevating ‘low’ Art and popular symbols. 

Just as Keith Haring’s simplified figures covered New York in the 80s, walking around London today we encounter a series of extremely expressive figures drawn only with a few basic lines – works by British Graffiti artist Stik. 

 

Stik, Dancer (2011), digital print in black and red. Courtesy of Christie’s 

 

Stik’s works have been exhibited and sold at finest galleries and auctions. His style is unique in colour and form and shows a very contemporary strand of what can be seen as Pop. Its reproducibility, legibility, iconic nature and popularity are a clear reference to Keith Haring’s works.

But now the digital realm has become the centre stage for contemporary society mixing and taking from the visual culture of games, influencers and the world of digital consumption. It is as if the Pop Art movement was still evolving and being discovered as the digital and physical boundaries of reproduction are reached.

‘Pop Culture’ has become a more diverse expanded category of symbols, fictional and non-fictional characters and images. So perhaps, more than asking ourselves whether Pop Art is a movement of the past, we should ask ourselves how this movement pushed artists, and the masses, to look at the new horizons of the Arts.

 

Cover image: James Rosenquist, President-Elect, 1960-61/1964, oil on linen. Courtesy Centre Pompidou, Paris.

Written by Zoë Zanello

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.
 

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