Pop art and the push for an ideology shift

Pop art began to grow out of an increasingly centralised pop culture…

The movement emerged in the 1950s as artists felt the need to relate their work more closely to their lifestyle. Consumerism, celebrity culture, advertising and comic books were among some of the visual culture references that Pop artists, therefore, utilised. American Pop artist of the period, Roy Lichtenstein employed comic imagery to make satirical comments on society; Claes Oldenburg took enlarged everyday objects to celebrate and satirise the mundane; and Richard Hamilton’s work utilised consumer materials such as advertisements and other print media. 

Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam!, acrylic and oil on two canvas panels, 1963, Tate Modern, London, 174 x 408 cm. Courtesy of: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Roy-Lichtenstein 

…while essentially promoting an ideological shift in the art world and beyond

Pop Art rebelled against standardised forms of art and practice by satirically showcasing the art world’s high standards. This was confirmed by the mass of outraged critics. Robert Hughes, art critic, claimed Andy Warhol’s work as having “nothing to say” - similar to many other anti-modernist art critics at the time who did not seem to understand the angle of Pop art. 

In itself, this movement began as a form of art activism 

Artists aimed to shift ideologies on what art could look like while expanding the breadth of what it could discuss. Pop Art ridiculed society’s lean to conformity. With characteristics that referenced the repetitiveness of machinery, bold colours, humour and the approachability of advertisement, Pop Art displayed a need for a new focus: away from ‘high art’ and toward a more relatable and mass appropriate visuality.

Andy Warhol, 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans, 32 screen-printed canvases, 20 x 16". Courtesy of: https://origins.osu.edu/milestones/november-2012-andy-warhol-s-campbell-s-soup-cans-1962?language_content_entity=en 

Pop Art observes of the societal shift to consumerism and commercialisation

Andy Warhol’s classic Campbell’s Soup Can addresses the topic of consumer culture and mass production using a recognisable visual. Similarly, Shirani Bolle’s work, Shop The Pain Away utilises well-established logos and pop culture references to deepen the link with societal ideologies. The painting sits within the contemporary landscape of fast fashion. Bolle draws on Pop Art techniques to highlight the distraction that shopping in our current society of mass consumerism provides.

Shirani Bolle, Shop The Pain Away, acrylic pain, ink, pencil and posca pen on canvas, 100 x 120 cm.

Pop Art can satirically comment on global issues…

The movement’s ability to both mock and reflect on society allows contemporary issues to be targeted from a fresh perspective. Mikarla Teague takes this approach with her Pop Art-inspired works. Apathy Is Our Modern Social Disease visualises a refugee alongside popular smartphone icons. Citing global governmental failure to address serious abuses to asylum seekers, Teague satirically comments on society’s indifference to images of pain and suffering. The piece questions modern priorities while highlighting a contemporary pressing subject.

Mikarla Teague, Apathy is a Modern Social Disease, mixed media on canvas, 55 x 90 cm.

…while recognisable symbols can promote activist movements

The nature of the Pop Art allows it to be read easily, thus acting as the perfect vehicle for widespread messaging. Michael Kwong utilises these characteristics within Mickey’s Frustration to discuss climate change and its deadly consequences. Mickey Mouse, a widely-known symbol, alludes to future generations and the environmental dangers that they face. The sea of opposing expressional brushstrokes, symbolising air pollution, draws focus to the representational and distinctly rendered gas mask (a feature of the Pop Art style). He embeds his work within an art history straddling Pop Art and expressionism; the former underscores the severity of the issue, and its innate link with how our culture of mass production contributes to it.

Michael Kwong, Mickey's Frustration, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm.


Pop Art remains relevant and valued 

Of the five highest selling artists in 2021, three were Pop Artists: Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Gerard Richter. In 2022 there were £36 million-worth of Pop Art and Post-Pop Art print sales. This was a record-breaking year in the Pop Art market. Artists, such as Bolle and Kwong, highlight the movement’s presence within the contemporary art scene, and its continuing relevance within current culture. 



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