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“FOR AS LONG AS there have been people putting art on a pedestal,” Jamie James writes, “there have been others, usually artists themselves, who have taken delight in pulling it off again.”
“Loosely defined,” author James writes, “Pop Art is painting and sculpture which borrows its imagery from the mass culture—high art mimicking low art. Thus, commercial products, advertisements, newspaper clippings, even comic books and pornography, are fair game for the Pop artist, who elevates these vulgar materials to the status of ‘high-brow’ culture.”
Here’s a selection of my favorites in Pop Art, with commentary gleaned from the book and my usual Internet sleuthing.
In 1947–1949, Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi, 1924–2005, assembled collages from scraps of American magazines and newspapers. I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything, 1947, was one of the earliest pieces to employ the word “POP” in juxtaposing exaggerated sexuality, high technology, and familiar consumerism.
English artist Richard Hamilton, 1922–2011, produced this earliest of dedicated Pop Art as a poster for a landmark exhibit, This Is Tomorrow, at London’s Whitechapel Art Gallery. James observes how it satirizes “exaggerated sexuality, both male and female; the banality of the American middle class; popular entertainment, in the form of the comic strip and Hollywood cinema; and advanced technology.”
Andy Warhol, 1928–1986, became one of the preeminent American artists of the Pop genre. A late comer, he established a career in commercial art before making the transition to Pop in 1960. Big Campbell’s Soup Can (19¢) was one of his earliest Pop works. His 1967 serigraph Marilyn, shown on the Pop Art cover, is one of his most iconic.
Roy Lichtenstein, Manhattan-born 1923, has described Pop Art as “not ‘American’ painting but actually industrial painting.” His parodies of comic strip subjects are graphically striking and oversize; this image of aerial combat extends more than 13 ft. James observes that the texts in Lichtenstein’s war-comic paintings “seem at times to reflect, however dimly, the epic themes of glory and heroism found in Homer and Virgil.”
Marisol Escobar, 1930–2016, was Parisian-born of Venezuelan parents. She grew up in Paris and Los Angeles and, in 1950, moved to New York City. Originally a sculptor, Marisol soon added painting, photographic images, plaster and metal elements, and found objects. James notes that Women and Dog is “not only an affectionate parody of Cubist works, but there is also the suggestion that the women are interchangeable and shallow—much worse than two-faced.” He also observes that “her work has a deadpan irony verging on whimsy, and a handmade ‘artsy-craftsiness’ that sets her well outside the mainstream of the movement.”
Mel Ramos, 1935–2018, was an American artist and university art professor who gained his Pop inspirations from consumer advertising and girlie magazines. James notes, “By presenting women in degrading circumstances at a time when the women’s rights movement was gaining strength in the United States, Ramos challenged the very legitimacy of the canons of good taste.” Micronite was the patented, and much-hyped, ingredient in the Kent cigarette filter.
Claes Oldenburg, Stockholm-born 1929, is an American artist best known for his public art installations featuring oversize replicas of everyday objects. James notes, “Gravity, traditionally the sculptor’s enemy, is here enlisted as an ally, to bring the luridly painted ‘shoestring potatoes’ cascading down around the viewer’s head.”
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2018