In this major retrospective of Pop Art I am going to consider the importance of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein who to me represented the two different aspects of Pop art as it emerged in the 1960’s in the United States. There were other Pop Artists but I would bracket Jasper Johns , Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenberg as Neo Realists. Peter Blake Edouard Palozzi , and David Hockney are British pop artists who I will consider in a separate postings.
In many ways Pop art was a reaction to the high art of Modernism represented by Abstract Expressionism Michael Archer comments on the role of Lichenstein and Warhol. ” Pop Art appeared and was acknowledged as a movement in the Us at the very beginning of the 1960’s. By 1962 it was possible to identify a common sensibility among a number of artists notably Roy Lichenstein ,Andy Warhol”..
Archer shows how Pop art differed from abstract expressionism . ” In a significant departure from the emotionally charged styles of the Abstract Expressionists , moreover these artists (Lichenstein and Warhol) appeared to be dependent upon the techniques of mass visual culture, Lichenstein for example selected individual frames from cartoon strips altering them slightly to suit his purposes”..
” Like wise Andy Warhol’s repition of motif , soup cans , coke bottles , money , news photos famous people a means of covering the canvass used by johns (Jasper Johns) in his alphabet and number paintings”. . ” For Warhol repition was bound up much more fundamentally with the way we see and treat other kinds of images and objects in our daily lives”. .
Of course Pop Art was a challenge to the abstraction favoured by Abstract expressionism and saw a return to figurative art.
” To emphasise his recognition that art coud not escape being treated as a commodity in the same way as tins of soup , soap pads and boxes of cereal Warhol dubbed his studio the factory and described the way his assistants helped with the multiple screen-printing of the images he selected as similar to a production line”..
In many ways Warhol used his ‘factory’ as a means for mass produced products, in fact very similar to the guild operating at the time of Da Vinci and Michaelangelo who also used assistants. All the images produced by Warhol and Lichenstein had this feel of designed work from a production line. Warhol who was mixing with famous personalities and film stars had very little time for putting the final touches to his work.
Archer refers to the banal nature of the work. ” As far as the subject matter of pop art went its banality was itself an affront to its critics .without clearer evidence that the material had undergone some transformation or incorporated into Art. The art itself could not be said to offer anything that life did not already provide.” .
Lichenstein and other always said that they owed a debt to Abstract Expressionism and this evidence is more apparent than in Warhol’s work. ” Pop’s formal reference to abstract expressionism emphasise the degree to which it continued to be art”..
A series of Brushstrokes (Lichenstein ‘Little big Painting 1965) carefully and precisely displayed abstract expressionism as a style making obvious the fact that the expressiveness associated with it is not transparent”..
Edward Lucie smith another art Critic considers the influence of Pop Art when it first burst on the scene. ” Despite the initial hesitancy which I have described Pop art has so far had a greater impact and has taken firmer root in America than elsewhere”..
” Pop art as it emerged from the experiments of the Fifties was the ideal instrument for coming to grips with the American urban environment”..
Lucie Smith like other art Historians has traced Duchamp as the source of what much of Pop art represented. It broke down this hierarchial division of High and Low art that Greenberg and Fried had constructed. It showed that this was the art that the masses became attracted to and was in fact Low Art. Both Greenberg and Fried rarely commented and always referred to Pop art as Kitsch.
” Duchamp in his dismay had hit upon the differences as well as the resemblance. it seems that one of the puzzling aspects of pop art and the one most urgently in need of explanation , is its apparent coolness its absence of commitment to the subject matter it depicts”..
” What the Pop artist did- at least in their exploratory -phase was to find something positive in these gestures of opposition something which could be built upon”..
I have included two images from Mel Ramos who used naked models to highlight certain products like cheese spread and Tomato sauce.
As Lucie Smith continues there is no such thing in style in Pop Art . ” In fact when one comes to describe a typical pop painting one soon discovers that there is no such thing. The idea of style dissolves -pop art is generally styleless hostile to categories”.
” Warhol for instance would like to eliminate the idea of the handmade work of art together. Many of his pictures are based on photographic images transferred directly to the canvass by means of a stencils”.
Commenting on Lichenstein who does work alone and there is a distinct difference between his art and Warhol’s. I would say that Lichenstein who had training in Design is more painterly in his approach , later on he will try and appropriate styles from Cubism , Dada and other currents. ” Lichenstein paints blown -up enlargements of things in a style borrowed from the crudest comic strips”. .
” What the painters I have been discussing reflect what they share is the tone of the modern megapolis of majority living of penned in cities and cut off from nature”..
Both Lichenstein would continually paint or depict images from an urban or town setting. Towards the later period Lichenstein would use his design training to fashion different images.
” I am suggesting (Lucie smith) is this that the main activity of the pop artist, his justification is not so much to produce works of art as to make sense of the environment , to accept the logic of what surrounds him in everything he does”. .
Both Warhol and Lichenstein showed images of war , Violence and disasters. These disasters became for Warhol his comment on society but it was never driven by a social conscience, much of what Warhol believed was very shallow. He mixed with and flirted with many Celebrities and Film stars but his revolutionary approach to art , to open up art as he perceived it was a progressive act and he reflected the period he lived in , primarily the Imperialist wars in Cambodia and Vietnam. He was in a sense a barometer of society during those Years. Lichenstein as well had these ideas and he used the writing or words spoken from popular graphic novels together with Japanese manga comics.
As Lucie Smith Comments ” Like everything else in our society , pop culture is the product of the Industrial Revolution”..” Pop culture includes a shift in style towards the object , objects are no longer unique”. .
Confirming the return to Figuration Lucie Smith makes this telling remark. ” But to return to Pop itself – in the early sixties many people welcomed it as a reversal of a trend , a sudden unexpected last minute victory scored by figuration over abstract painting”. .
” For instance one of the first discoveries we make , when we start to look at pop Paintings carefully is that very little of them comes to us first hand as the product of the artists own direct observations. He does not recreate he chooses”. .
Lucie Smith concludes ” Everything about Pop art was and is transient and provisional by embracing these qualities the pop artist held a mirror to society itself”. .
This concludes the first part of my retrospective look at Pop art by considering a number of sources during and after the period. I would argue that the greatest heritage Pop Art gave to us was to break down the Barrier of Modernism and produce art that can be appreciated by the masses, a culture that they could relate , although much of the subject matter was banal at times both Warhol and Lichenstein showed images of wars, disasters violence and Imperialism itself particularly the war in Vietnam.
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