Pop Art developed simultaneously but independently in both the US and the UK in the mid 1950s and reached its peak in the 1960s. It was a revolt against prevailing orthodoxies in art and life and can be seen as one of the first manifestations of Postmodernism. The main feature of both UK and US Pop Art was its source of inspiration in ‘low art’ such as popular and commercial culture.
Pop Art used popular culture such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects, as both a source material as well as a subject for critique. It reflected and passed comment on the substantial shifts occurring in society towards a more consumer-orientated market. The movement also embraced other aspects of consumer culture such as Warhol’s embracing of mass producing art in his ‘Factory’ using the silkscreen printing process.
Lawrence Alloway art critic first used the term in print in 1958, and conceived of Pop art as the lower end of a popular-art to fine-art continuum, encompassing such forms as advertising, science-fiction illustration and automobile styling.
In the US Pop Art emerged from works originally classified as Neo-Dada, referencing the first use of everyday object is high art by Duchamp in his ready mades. Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg applied techniques from Abstract Expressionist painting to everyday objects they found around them.
Roy Lichtenstein also began as an Abstract Expressionist but in the 1960’s broke with this style and began developing his paintings inspired by comic strips. He wanted to use the mass produced style on a scale not normally seen, to express very deep emotions or concepts. He also used the style to reproduce existing works of ‘high art’ by artists such as Picasso and Monet.
The other big artist in US Pop Art is of course Andy Warhol. Warhol began as a commercial artist and used both everyday objects as well as celebrities and images from the mass media. He further replicated consumer culture in his Factory production methods and he use of multiple productions of the same image.
In the UK Pop Art evolved from a group of artists working and studying at the Royal College of Art and the ICA in London. Peter Blake was one of the first British Pop artists with his student works directly reflecting his love of folk art and popular culture. In the late 1950s he made constructions and collage-based paintings that incorporated postcards, magazine photographs and mass-produced objects. Other early proponents in the UK include Richard Hamilton David Hockney and Eduardo Paolozzi. Hamilton defined Pop in 1957 as: ‘Popular (designed for a mass audience); Transient (short term solution); Expendable (easily forgotten); Low Cost; Mass Produced; Young (aimed at Youth); Witty; Sexy; Gimmicky; Glamorous; and Big Business’.
Pop Art has left a lasting legacy with artists today continuing to use everyday objects in their work and methods such as silkscreen printing in producing their work. Pure Evil even uses the images of Pop Art itself to create new work, such as his Nightmare series paying homage to Andy Warhol’s celebrity portraits. David Spiller uses cartoon characters and the lyrics from popular songs in his works. Both artists use the silkscreen printing method in their works.