Pop Art stands for everything commercial and cheap, including an assortment of capitalist concepts like convenient, plastic, shallow, superficial, mass-produced, mechanical, disposable, pulp, sexy, consumer-focused, fleeting, and impersonal. When one takes a first look at Pop Art, its images and sculptures almost look like they pretend to be art but do not merit serious consideration.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987) is one of the best-known artists of Pop Art for “Campbell’s Soup Cans” and celebrity images transformed into commercial art. He made several prints using the image of Marilyn Monroe, including “Twenty-five Colored Marilyns.”
The fascination with pop culture focused on American life, but Warhol was not the only notable artist. The pop culture phenomenon occurred in the context of bigger social issues such as achieving civil rights and protesting the Vietnam War.
Some art histories describe Pop Art as a response to Abstract Expressionism. Recall artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Koonig. Roy Lichtenstein hit the new Pop Art vibe with “Big Painting #6” in 1965. This painting has only four main colors on a dull background—black, red, yellow, and white. An acrylic on canvas, a bright red drape springs off the painting’s center. There is even a dripped effect of red paint on the right side of the picture. The simplicity of plastic art is beautiful in its cheapness, but the composition is very intense and almost conveys motion like Boccioni’s Futurist paintings.
It is an art lover or historian’s dream come true when an artist takes time to write down exactly how he or she feels about a particular age. Lichtenstein compared himself in 1966 to the Abstract Expressionists who were known for trying to access their subconscious and their emotions:
Lichtenstein wrote: “Personally, I feel that in my own work I wanted to look programmed or impersonal but I don’t really believe I am being impersonal when I do it…But the impersonal look is what I wanted to have.”
Honour and Fleming (2005) note that “Pop Art…emerged simultaneously but quite independently in Britain and the United States.” The 1950s was the era of Elvis Presley in the U.S., and, by 1960, was the Beatles era in Great Britain. In 1956, Richard Hamilton, a British artist, painted “collage, Just what is it makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?” This collage includes several plastic images that capture popular culture. For example, a bodybuilder wields a giant lollipop and a nude woman with a lampshade hat sits next to a manufactured can of ham.
American Pop Art includes hard edges and represents real life while British Pop juxtaposes images of American culture as a way to mock or parody through contrast. Both forms include images and text from contemporary advertising.