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Research: POP ART - George Callinicos

Pop art was born in the mid 1950s and was inspired by Hollywood movies, advertising, pop music and comic books. It appreciated popular culture or material culture and concerned the post WWII generation who were optimistic about their future. There was pop art made in America about America and pop art made in Britain about America. Unlike America, Britain came out of WWII with rationing and a depleted economy. It was about the American dream.

The main characteristics of pop art were:

1) Images were recognisable and drawn from popular media and products.

2) The colours used were usually bright .

3) Flat imagery was influenced by comic books and newspaper photographs.

4) Images of celebrities or fictional characters in comic books were common.

Famous names in British pop art included Richard Hamilton, Edouardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, David Hockney; in American pop art, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana and Claes Oldenburg.

The painting to the right is Lichtenstein's Sandwich and Soda, 1964 screenprint on acetate, 485x 584 mm.

The process used by Lichtenstein enabled prints to be released in large editions. It was printed on plastic and one of his first pop art prints. I like the diagonal dynamic composition of this picture, and the limited, nearly monochrome colour palette, with a maroon background, which gives the painting depth. But what is important here is not so much the elements displayed in the painting but the process of making the prints. It also represents the start of the fast food chains.

The painting to the left is Andy Warhol's Black Bean ,1968, screen print on paper, support 892x591 mm.

Andy Warhol produced screen prints of soup cans on canvases and then sold the canvases. One question is, can this still be considered a piece of art? Warhol painted many consumer items. He was asked the question :' why do you paint this'? He replied:' because I drink it'. Art historians such as Greenburg looked at this type of art as superficial and Warhol agreed and said:' yes I am superficial’.

Sculptors such as Claes Oldenberg blew up everyday objects to very large proportions and asked the question: 'what constitutes an iconic image in a modern society embracing disposable mass production items'?

The sculpture above ' FloorBurger' 1962 by Claes Oldenburg is interesting.

This is a huge soft hamburger, made of painted canvas sewn and stuffed with foam. Oldenburg was actually criticising the American way of life, which was not what pop art generally set out to do. You are what you consume. The burger represents conformity, a standardisation of what is eaten and the reduction of individuality. Oldenburg is using his art to make a statement.

To appreciate this, one needs to understand what the artist is trying to convey. Like the soup can, the burger itself is not particularly aesthetically pleasing, but to me it makes a more profound statement.

Can the above pieces of art be considered still life? Of all the genres in art, still life has traditionally had the lowest status. However it has always been commercially popular.

The word still life comes from the Dutch' stilleven' which is translated as' stationary nature'. So in that sense the above inanimate objects are still lifes. Traditionally the arrangement of the different elements was important, but the emphasis has changed over the centuries. In 17th century Netherlands many of the objects had symbolic meaning ( Vanitas etc.), later it was composition and colour that became more important.

Looking at the above works, in pop art we have to widen our definition even further. The soup can on a canvas does not just depict an object, it is an image of popular culture, a way of viewing America and what it stands for.

My personal view on pop art:

I have never really been a great fan of pop art. I can appreciate its historical importance and the effect it has had on popular culture, consumerism and advertising etc. I am personally not that interested in consumerism and advertising, although like everyone else am affected by it in my daily life. However, if one forgets the symbolism attached to pop art and views it solely in terms of ' art', without the 'pop', some works such as the comics by Lichtenstein are very skilfully executed and I can appreciate that. However I still cannot say that I like Warhol's soup can, but try to view each work on its own merit.

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