The Great American pop artist Andy Warhol died on Feb 22, 1987. Not only was he an incredibly talented artist, he was the master of the unexpected and had some absolutely brilliant and witty quotes. Here are some of his gems as this week’s Sunday Seven:
People should fall in love with their eyes closed.
Don’t pay attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.
I just do art because I’m ugly and there’s nothing else for me to do.
The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will.
In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.
I never fall apart, because I never fall together.
As soon as you stop wanting something you get it.
It’s not what you are that counts, it’s what they think you are.
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.
The glorification and elevation of a soup tin to high art could only happen in a country that was the birthplace of democracy and considers the pursuit of happiness a national pastime. The generation that grew up in war time was clearly going to be different from previous generations, and this was evident in almost every aspect of their lives. There was a sense of impermanence, and the desire to enjoy life for the moment. When the children of the people who fought in the war became adults, they lived life on their own terms; changed their hairstyles, shortened their dresses, removed hats and collars, listened to music that was definitely not their parents’ music, and freed art from the shackles of fine art and refinement.
In their adulthood, by the late 1950s, America was a place of affluence and material wealth. Families purchased new age gadgets like automobiles and televisions, moved to the suburbs, and lived a consumerist life. Capitalism in society also inspired the art movement known as Pop Art which started in the late 1950s and lasted until the 1970s. The movement was mainly limited to the United States and Britain, and its most defining feature was that it took art lightly and turned to mainstream media and culture for inspiration.
The art world’s immediate reaction to World War II was to turn inward to an art movement that eventually came to be known as Abstract Expressionism. By 1960s, the artists who grew up with and learned their trade from the abstract expressionists were ready for a change. And since no conventional realism would do, the answer came in the form of Pop Art – this happy medium of abstract and realism, which is both and neither at the same time, was coined “Pop Art,” by British art critic Lawrence Alloway in 1951 referring to the pop culture of the era.
Pop Art was a product of its times. By the 1960s, the US was a consumer goods society with mass media extensively promoting material goods to a society looking to increase its material possessions. Pop Art looked towards the graphics and images from advertisements and other forms of mass media for inspiration. Mass media had already perfected images to sell products to the American public and Pop Art elevated these images further by putting by elevating them to an art form; what art critic described aptly as gilding an already gilded lily. In the UK too, a public tired of war rations and shortages wanted to reap the material benefits and affluence so seductively presented in American films and magazines.
Among contemporary art movements, Pop Art, with its bold, bright colors, is one of the most instantly recognizable styles of art. Pop Art blurred the distinction between fine art and commercial art by turning to banal, everyday items for inspiration. This art movement captured everyday items such as ice cream cones, soup cans, billboards, and comic strips and recorded a moment in time of American life. Pop art presents realistic images of these items, but not in the conventional sense; the enormous sizes, though not unrecognizable, are sufficiently transformed by the artist to be no longer realistic.
The revolutionary group of artists who worked in Pop Art were not only rebelling against the status quo in the art world, they were also affirming the post-war capitalist boom in America. Similar to previous generations of artists who recorded the ever changing contours of the great American outdoors, the avant-garde group of pop artists sought to capture the transient nature of the subject matter they painted. Among the most well-known were Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Jasper Johns, and Robert Indiana. British pop artists, who were influenced by American culture from a distance, included Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, and Peter Blake.
In my next blog I’ll write about three of these artists, their works, and some concluding remarks about this art movement.