Nearly fifty years later and it still seems the work of the pop artists are everywhere: that infamous print of Marilyn is on everything from clothes to stationary; I can’t see a can of Campbell soup without thinking of Warhol; and Lichtenstein’s comic strip works have almost become a cliché. Ever wondered what makes these iconic images works of art? Well there’s more to Pop Art than meets the eye:
Begun in Britain in the 1950s the term ‘Pop Art’ was coined to describe the shift from ‘fine art’ subjects, of often biblical or historical scenes, to subjects from bill-boards, comic strips, and supermarket products of everyday life. Pop Art really took off in 1960s America and Andy Warhol, although not the first, became the most famous artist to blur consumerism and art. He based his work entirely on objects of popular culture: he immortalised Marilyn Monroe in his iconic prints of varying colours and sizes; as he did for the Campbell brand with his 32 Campbell’s soup cans. In his New York studio, aptly named the ‘Factory’, he hired artists to produce his silk-screen and lithograph works. Churning out his art work to eager buyers as the Campbell soup and coca cola factories similarly churned out their products. Roy Lichtenstein had similar success with his comic strip works which, unlike Warhol’s ‘factory’, he created by hand. Painted benday dots and hard edges mimicked the look of comic strip printing as did his use of familiar characters Mickey Mouse and Popeye. These two artists’ best defined the fundamental idea of Pop Art: creating art made from and for the masses; idealising, exploiting and mocking fine art, popular culture and mass-marketing all at the same time. It is ironic that now, with our Marilyn print t-shirts and Campbell soup posters, that Pop Art has totally been assimilated by the forms of mass-marketing and production which it sought to exploit.