Pop Art gave America some of its most well-known and beloved artists and iconic paintings, and proved to be a form of self-affirmation for a young nation still looking to old European masters for inspiration and approval. Andy Warhol (1929-1987), whose name has become synonymous with Pop Art is the leading figure of this movement. His creative peak was between 1962 and 1968, when he produced a series of paintings which proved to be the high-point of the pop art movement.
Having had a previous career in advertising, Warhol favored commercial techniques, and was keenly aware of the way imagery could be manipulated. His soup tin and head of Marilyn Monroe with which he has become inextricably linked are considered pop art icons. In Marilyn Monroe (1964), Andy Warhol painted twenty-five images of Marilyn Monroe emphasizing how easily the image can be mass produced. A closer look, however, reveals that each head varies slightly from the next, “here the eye shadow is darker, there the hair is lighter, in another place the lips are smudged.” (John Sandberg, Art Journal). In Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962), by removing soup tins from the supermarket aisle and placing them in a new setting, Warhol changed the way America looked at art.
Another groundbreaking pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) looked to comic strips for inspiration right down to the Benday dots used in cheap comic strip printing. With Whaam! (1963), Lichtenstein took a highly charged subject matter and shows it in a completely detached emotionless way. According to Tate Modern, this was commercial art in a fine art context. In the melodramatic Drowning Girl (1963), he copied a comic strip right down to the dots.
British Pop Art, though inspired by America was less brash. It seems softer and bordered on nostalgia. Peter Blake (b. 1932), a member of the avant-garde British pop artist Independent Group, whose original claim to fame was the co-creation of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, is a leading figure in British pop art. In one of his most well-known works Self-Portrait with Badges (1961), Blake pays homage to tradition with the badges, and to popular culture, particular American culture, with baseball shoes, denim fabric, and the magazine dedicated to Elvis Presley who had just become famous in Britain (Tate Modern).
In The First Real Target (1961), in true Pop Art fashion, an everyday item becomes an item of visual interest. Moreover, by alluding to American pop artist Jasper Johns, who is known for painting targets, Blake acknowledges the appeal and influence of American pop art and popular culture.
The Pop Art movement faded away by the end of the 1970s, but left its mark on the art world. It made ordinary, recognizable objects into visual art and paved the way for artists to explore the nature of art which in turn led to experimentation and art movements such as Postmodernism, Photorealism, and Neo-Expressionism.
Ia short span of less than two decades, Pop Art unchained the fine art, highbrow shackles that had chained art for centuries, and made it fun, vibrant, colorful, relatable, and democratic. The movement’s most enduring legacy, however, is that it has made the world a little less rigid, and a little more tolerant and open-minded. It showed the world that there is more than one way of seeing things, and in so doing, forever changed the way the world looks at art.