POP Art’s Powerful Influence Today

The Origin of Pop Art

Largely influenced by the proliferation of the advertising industry in mass media, Pop Art was a bold style of art that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As the field of psychology crept into brand marketing, visuals and messages were becoming more savvy, eye-catching, and simplified.

pop arts influence
Mobiloil brand advertisement, “Extra Protection For Your Engine”, by Socony-Vacuum Oil Company Inc. Printed in the USA around 1950.

Pop Art descended from Dada, a cynical movement popular in the 1920s that mocked the severity of contemporary Parisian art and, more widely, the political and cultural condition that had pushed Europe to its first World War.

Whether simply as a reflection of society or as a commentary on commercialization, Pop Art was characterized as a response to the postwar era’s commodity-driven ideals, frequently employing mundane objects (such as soup cans, comic strips, hamburgers, and road signs) as the subject matter or as part of the work.

Other early twentieth-century painters that influenced Pop Art were Fernand Léger and Stuart Davis, as they all reminisced mass manufacturing, precision, and commercial materials of the machine-industrial period in their paintings.

famous pop artist
Fernand Léger, Still Life with a Beer Mug, 1921, oil on canvas.

what is pop art
US postage stamp of 1964 featuring ‘Detail Study for Cliche’ by Stuart Davis

The Pop Artists’ direct forefathers were American painters Larry Rivers, Robert Rauschenberg, and, Jasper Johns, who in the 1950s painted flags, beer cans, and other such things using a painterly, expressive style.

Despite being influenced by comparable subjects, British Pop is typically considered unique from American Pop. Early Pop Art in Britain was fueled by a distant view of American popular culture, but American artists were motivated by what they noticed and experienced while living inside that society. 

After the painterly softness of abstract expressionism, Pop style was a comeback to representational art (art that reflected the visual world in a recognizable fashion) and the use of harsh edges and clear shapes in the United States. Pop artists aimed to break away from the focus on self sentiments and personal symbols that characterized abstract expressionism by employing impersonal, banal images. In Britain, the movement took a more intellectual approach. While using sarcasm and satire, it concentrated on what American popular iconography signified and its capacity to manipulate people’s lifestyles.

Iconic Examples of Pop Art

Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing? Richard Hamilton, 1956

Richard Hamilton’s works were heavily inspired by the seduction of celebrity and the growing influence of Hollywood in American culture. His collage, Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different, So Appealing?, depicts a living room loaded with items and ideas that, according to Hamilton, were a distraction to society, suffocating postwar awareness. The viewer’s attention is captured by the figure of a bodybuilder holding a large lollipop with the word ‘POP’ written on it. As a result, it’s no surprise that this collage is sometimes referred to as the earliest example of Pop Art.

His works and collages at this time often included actual pieces of plastic in them to highlight the artificial nature of his representations.

Whaam! Roy Lichtenstein, 1963

Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963.

Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein is a two-canvas artwork that looks like a comic strip depicting a rocket explosion in the sky. He recreated the panel below from a DC Comic titled All-American Men of War with acrylic paint and clean, stylized lines. As a former soldier in the American Army during WWII, Lichtenstein was fascinated with war comics and by the idea of depicting extremely heated events in this detached, planned manner.

Original comic book panel from DC Comics‘ All-American Men of War No. 89 (Feb. 1962)

Marilyn Diptych. Andy Warhol, 1962

Andy Warhol has almost become synonymous with Pop Art. His work questioned the creative ownership of popular images, reinvented the mundane into icons, and inspired through his ‘factory‘ countless clones of himself and his mission. Warhol’s passion for pop culture and celebrity prompted him to create a large number of screen-prints portraying celebrity images, experimenting with color, reproduction, and multiplicity of variations on one image. His Marilyn Diptych has 50 photographs of Marilyn Monroe, half of which are colored and the other half are black-and-white.

pop art andy warhol

And true to Andy’s legacy, this concept repetition and image format have been reproduced in both art and advertisement countless times through the years.

LOVE. Robert Indiana, 1967

His LOVE artworks exemplified this sort of Pop-inspired obsession with the power of everyday words in both their meaning and in their font or text form. The original LOVE painting was painted in the three primary colors of RGB (Red, Green, and Blue). The letters forming the word were stacked above each other rather than written out, while the only variation in the font lies in the tilt of the ‘O’. Through this powerful manipulation of design, Indiana extracts his social commentary on popular culture’s relationship and commodification of love.

As one of Pop Art’s most well-known pictures, and for its plethora of meaning and maybe even misinterpretation, LOVE has ironically appeared in the design of tapestries, paintings, sculptures, prints, banners, stamps, and rings, since then. 

Pop Art’s Legacy

Pop art was the first movement to embrace advertising and commercialism as art forms. It’s a movement that seemed to swallow up the popular trends and styles of media and commercialism into an all-encompassing visual phenomenon where images are reduced and meaning is magnified.

Although Pop Art became less popular as a ‘style’ with the introduction of installation and video art of the 1970s, its use of irony and social critique fueled later critical and conceptual works we see today.

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Art Shepard Fairey, based on a photo taken by Mannie Garcia for Associated Press

In addition to leaving its mark on the Art World, Pop Art has also come to shape our daily designs, campaigns, and logos. Even the sleek minimalism of Apple’s identity, as well as the clarity of the multi-colored typography in the Google homepage layout, show pop art’s impact in our visual culture. But although we may have been desensitized to Pop Art’s aesthetic, through its loudness, boldness, and repetitiveness, we are still surrounded by its impact, even if simply as passive consumers.

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