Updated: Apr 1, 2020
Article by Dr Ruth Polleit Riechert, Art Expert at kultart.com
Pop art is an art movement that started in Great Britain in the 1950s and continued in the US and Britain in the 1960s. It was inspired from sources in popular and commercial culture. Its main period ended in the early 1970s.
What is pop art about?
The most important characteristic of pop art is the idea that art can borrow from any source and there is no hierarchy of culture. Reflecting the signs of the times, pop art focused on mass production, celebrity, and the expanding industries of advertising, TV, radio, and print media.
The majority of pop artists began their careers in commercial art. Their background provided them with the visual vocabulary of mass culture. As an art movement, pop art incorporated many different styles of painting, sculpture, collage, and street art. Pop art is often bold, colourful, and humorous, and looks rather flat rather than having depth created by layers of colour.
What are the most influential artists and artworks?
Richard Hamilton (1922–2011) is regarded by many as the father of British pop art. Jasper Johns (1954/55) painted an everyday object — the American flag — and became a leading figure in the American pop art movement. Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) is known for his comic strip cartoon-style paintings, whereas Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) is well-known for his Combines collages of the 1950s, in which non-traditional materials and objects were used in innovative combinations. Like many pop artists, James Rosenquist (1933–2017) was fascinated by the popularisation of political and cultural figures in mass media. In his painting “President-Elect”, the artist depicts John F. Kennedy’s face amidst a selection of consumer goods. Andy Warhol (1928–1987) is probably the best-known figure in the pop art movement. In the early 1960s, he began to experiment with reproductions based on mass-produced images from popular culture such as Campbell’s soup tins and Coca Cola bottles.
In 1962, Warhol created his probably most famous artwork. He created several mass-produced images of the actress Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962), all based on the same publicity photograph. The repetition of the image was representative of her presence in the media.
What happened later?
Pop art would continue to influence artists in subsequent decades. However, pop fell out of favour in the 1970s as the art world shifted its focus from art objects to installations, performances, and other less tangible art forms, but with the resurgence of painting in the early 1980s, the art object came back into favour once again.
At that time, the graffiti movement developed as one of the continuations of pop art. Since graffiti art is created outside, it is also referred to as “street art”.
What is Street Art?
“Street Art” is defined as fine art created and shown in public places. It is also referred to as “urban art”. Most of the time, large open spaces — such as house walls — are painted in expressive colours. When artists use spray cans, we speak of graffiti art. Street art on public walls is called “mural art”.
Where are the origins?
The origins of street art go back to the 1920s. Around that time in Mexico, political messages were painted on public walls for the first time. In Europe, first graffiti works of art in Paris from the 1930s are known. In the 1960s, street art increasingly developed in the Bronx of New York.
Who are the artists?
In the 1980s, the Swiss Harald Naegeli (b. 1939) became known as the “Sprayer of Zurich” because he sprayed black stick figures everywhere in Zurich — and was arrested for doing so. At the same time, graffiti art becomes popular in New York.
Artists such as Keith Haring (1958–1990) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988) are known for their work, especially at subway stations. Both artists are still among the most respected representatives of graffiti art. Some of the best-known graffiti art works can be seen in Great Britian, the US, Mexico, and on the former German Berlin Wall.
The most famous contemporary street artist, however, is Banksy (b. 1974) from Bristol, England. Nobody knows his real name. Since 2005, his works have been sold at auctions and fetched top prices. Brad Pitt is one of his collectors. Banksy’s street art is now on display in museums.
The French artist Blek le Rat (b. 1951), whose real name is Xavier Prou, also belongs to the most influential figures of the street art scene. He was the first to bring template images to Paris walls in the early eighties.
Another established figure in contemporary urban art is Ron English (b. 1959), who combines expert draftsmanship with comedic critique of American pop culture. Also very well known is the inventor of “superflat art”, the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (b. 1962) who virtuously ignores any boundary between fine and commercial art.
Street art has become increasingly important among art critics, and some major companies were using it for advertising purposes without permission. A wider audience became aware of street art by Revok (born Jason Williams 1977) through a lawsuit against fashion retailer H&M which used his art in public places for an advertisement series.
As a whole, urban art has developed as hugely popular art movement on its own and seems to reflect perfectly the dynamics of postmodernity.
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RPR ART // Dr. Ruth Polleit Riechert // Email: email@example.com // Phone: +49 (0)6174-955694