What is it?
Pop Art is based on the acceptance and use of artefacts, mass advertising and
press media, and products of modern life (i.e. pop culture) as valid art forms in
themselves, and, subjected to various transformations which increase their
impact without destroying their character, as material for further artistic creation.
Photographs, posters, advertisements, strip-cartoons, packaging; objects of
everyday life such as furniture, machinery, cars, washbasins, quilts, stuffed
animals; the transmogrification in three dimensions by means of coloured
plastics of sausages, tomatoes, sandwiches, typewriters; the representation in
bronze — either left as itself, or painted realistically — of such things as beer cans
or apples; the painted imitations of tins of soup: all is grist to the Pop artists'
mill, since no aspect of modern life is excluded as an art form.
Its origins are complex and include Cubist collages with real newspapers
or cane seats; Picabia's 'object portraits'; brand-name wafers used by Picasso
in 1914; biscuits and matchboxes used by Chirico in 1916—17; Stuart Davis;
the Surrealists' found objects of the 1930s; the ready-mades of Dada, in
particular of Duchamp; Leger's flat, impersonal handling, which extolled
machines, and his enthusiasm for window dressing, or the plastic quality of
manufactured objects, as materials for artists; Bacon's use of photographs;
Cinerama, television and the wide-screen close-up as prototypes for environmental art and the huge-scale detail;
the composer John Cage's
between accidental and chosen sounds transferred to art, since the artist may
be inspired by casual combination of forms or by the deliberate selection of
commonplace and cliche aspects of life, and actions may themselves become
works of art, as in 'happenings', although these tend to be more destructive
than constructive, and are certainly ephemeral.
Two independent streams are discernible. The English stream came first,
during the 1950s (the writer Lawrence Alloway
appears to have coined the
term Pop Art about 1955/6), the main originating artists being Paolozzi,
Richard Hamilton and Magda Cordell, laterjoined by a second wave including
R. Smith, Wm Green, Roger Coleman, Wm Denny
and Peter Blake; a third
wave includes Barrie Bates ('Billy Apple'), Derek Boshier, David Hockney,
the American R.B. Kitaj, P. Caulfield, N. Toynton, Allen Jones and Peter
Phillips, although this wave also contains artists notably more subjective in
approach, with overtones of the erotic, the romantic, and the optical illusion
(leading to 0p Art).
American Pop Art appeared mainly in the 1960s and is more dependent on
Duchamp. It uses hard-edge techniques and colours of commercial-art origin
(but never of the glossy-magazine type, only of billboard and cheap journalism),
collage, and assembly of objects. It is rarely romantic, often humorous, sometimes macabre or scabrous, always close to its source in artefacts and unsophisticated mass-media. Its chief protagonists are Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein,
James Rosenquist, Wesselmann, 0ldenburg, and its originators (who are
less strictly Pop than their successors) are
Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg.
In California, its other main centre, it could have developed independently of
East Coast forms, as a reaction against Abstract Impressionism, which was
East Coast in origin, but had swept all before it across the Bay. The formative
influence was Kienholz, whose assemblages of detritus, arranged anecdotally,
seem to point a bitter allegory on the nastiness beneath the glossy surface of
modern urban life. In such artists as Bengston, Mel Ramos, Wayne Thiebaud
and Ruscha, it developed rapidly and quite differently from the East Coast
branch. One of the characteristics of much of Pop Art is that it is suitable only,
and appears to have been designed only, for museums and the like. Few private
collectors could expect to house rooms of bizarre furniture, or giant plastic
pouffes such as Oldenburg makes, or Marjorie Strider's 10-foot striped styrofoam
clouds hanging three deep from the ceiling. In this it resembles much of Abstract
Impressionism, which also tended to produce pictures from 6 to 17 feet in size,
as if scale were the only measure of content.
Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)
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