Dial-a-Style #4: Nailing the Pop Art Look

Gabrielle Gosha
Animation: Van Gogh's 'Bedroom in Arles'  becomes  Lichtenstein's own take on the same painting.

Van Gogh’s ‘Bedroom in Arles’ (1888) becomes
Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Bedroom in Arles’ in 1992.

Pop art: the word probably conjures up images of soup cans and colorful Marilyn Monroes for you.

A commentary on both the contemporary consumer and the culture, pop art delved into a world without looking for deep and philosophical meanings. It was a complete departure, and an active backlash against the art movements before it.

Like most artistic movements, pop art has its specific techniques and subject matters. The focus settled on culture and mass consumerism and art techniques that were typically embodied within classic fine art were transformed or abandoned altogether with pop art.

Bright vivid colors often accompanied bold, simplistic shapes and soft lines for a distinct and recognizable shape.

The Beginning

Painting: A drowning girl sobs in swirling waves thinking 'I don't care. I'd rather sink than call Brad for help".

Drowning Girl: Roy Litchenstein (1963)

Despite its association with New York, pop art had its true conception in Great Britain during the mid 1950s.

The movement emerged shortly after World War II, but it was Lawrence Alloway, a British curator who actually coined the term ‘pop art’ in 1955.

Pop art actually didn’t make its presence known in America until the late 1950s, where it went on to become the new, avant-garde standard until the late 1960s.

Section from Jackson Pollock's Number 28, 1950

Abstract: A section from Jackson
Pollock’s Number 28, 1950

Like most art movements, pop art was a direct response to the prevailing movement of the time – Abstract Expressionism.

After World War II, ‘high art’ quickly came to be defined by abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, who were obsessed with energy, movement, color and texture. At the same time — unlike almost all artists before — they generally shied away from clearly recognisable figures or subjects.

“Why bother painting things?” they said.

While this was a revelation with art critics, the general public often rolled their eyes at this ‘spatter art’.

Pop art not only returned recognisable subject matter to center stage — it plucked some of the most mundane advertising, celebrities snaps and comics from consumer culture, and dared to hang it on the gallery walls.

Pop artists loved painting things.

British and American Pop Art

Sgt. Peppers Album cover

While both Great Britain and North America engaged in the art pop movement, they used completely different styles, mediums and subject matter.

American Pop Art on a whole incorporated irony and parody for a more kitschy and aggressive feel. They translated the culture they lived in within their work and employed more commercial techniques like silk screen printing.

British Pop Art took a different approach by using references and focusing on specific subjects. As they did not have first-hand experience with American culture, they in turn channeled their view of American pop culture into their imagery with a British touch.

Key Players of Pop Art

Andy Warhol

Photo: Portrait of Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) an American artist is almost certainly the most famous and recognizable artist of the pop art movement.

Before joining the revolutionary movement he was a successful commercial artist in New York where he focused his time in magazine illustration and advertising. It was around 1949 where he began to experiment with popular consumer items like shoe advertisements.

Warhol’s style consisted of highly decorative and whimsical elements that were often coupled with a touch of comic which gave his work a more personal tone compared to other fine art.

One of the first artists who adopted traditional commercial and industrial techniques within his work, Warhol implemented silkscreen printing to create his paintings.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that Warhol began producing some of his most iconic works with paintings of popular American products like Campbell soup cans, Coca-Cola bottles and the dollar bills. His celebrity centered work featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando also came about.

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Litchenstein

Roy Fox Lichtenstein (1923-97) was another American pop artist who served to be one of the great pioneers of the art pop movement with the likes of Warhol, Rosenquist and Johns. His works, like Warhol’s, were iconic and instantly recognized.

Originally an abstract artist, it wasn’t until Lichtenstein met Allan Kaprow while taking up a teaching job at Rutgers University. It was there that Lichtenstein began his journey into the movement of pop art as he began to create free-hand paintings with comic strip frames.

Within his work Lichtenstein created parody and commentary within these hand painted comic strips as not only was he inspired by comics but popular culture as well.

Lichtenstein, like Warhol, adopted commercial techniques like silkscreen printing to create his work. He, however, added a more mechanical reproduction and is most known for his work showcasing the Ben-Day Dots printing process.

Sir Peter Blake

Photo: Sir Peter Thomas Blake

Sir Peter Thomas Blake (1932) is an English artist of the pop movement and one of the more readily known British pop artists. Most famously known for the artwork he created for the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” album cover, Blake has created other notable works as well.

Considered by some as the “Godfather of Pop Art” and one of the founding pioneers within British Pop Art, it was his feature in Ken Russell’s pop art film “Pop Goes the Easel” where Blake gained vast attention. However, it wasn’t until notorious London art dealer Robert Fraser began to showcase his work that Blake truly made connection with those imbedded deep into pop culture.

Nailing the Look

Rule #1: Crank the Color

Artwork: A fashionable blonde woman rendered in saturated flat color.

If there is one thing every designer can take away from pop art it is to be free with your color palette. Color was such a powerful tool during the art movement that you would be hard pressed to find an artist who stuck with muted tones. From this we learn that it is okay to push and test your color boundaries.

Since colors were often vivid it was no surprise that the predominant colors seen in pop art works were the primary colors, red, blue and yellow. These colors were not used to reflect the artist’s emotional state but the state of pop culture.

Color is not the only factor when going for the pop art style. Bold, thick black lines often seen in Lichtenstein’s work renders that comic book style. The use of contrasting elements is also a technique utilized.

Rule #2 Instant Meaning

Website screenshot: Mixbits.com

As pop art dealt with pop art, it was essential that the subject matter was instantly understood. Unlike the art movements before, the need for deep philosophical meaning wasn’t prevalent.

To depart from the fine art and traditional agenda artists incorporated commercial processing, acrylic paints instead of oils and other materials not associated with fine art painting. This was done in order to achieve the goal of “instant meaning”.

Furthering their ideal, pop artists also began to borrow from already high-profiled and easily recognizable consumer goods. From here they developed their color schemes and imagery which helped create an immediate connection with the viewing public.

This is what made pop art so accessible.

Rule #3 Make the Ordinary Extraordinary

Campbell's soup cans

Pop art was all about the simple and basic of items as well as form. Artists like Warhol transformed objects like cans and bottles into something that made you stop while artists like Lichtenstein put their own spin on already created art.

Artists intentionally took these objects, especially if they were consumer goods, and scaled them to ridiculously large proportions.

Just like with the Dada art movement it was determined that art could be anything and made out of anything. Pop artists expanded on this idea and therefore were not afraid to introduce items not typically seen as aesthetically pleasing into their work. No matter the object or material, it would be used if considered right for the piece of art.

Who’s Nailing the Pop Art Look?

Mega Cultural

Website:  megacultural.art.br

There are many different ways to employ the pop art look to your website as Dona Baronesa Design Studio shows.

Clearly research was put in with how accurate it nails this looks that takes on the comic book layout, word bubbles and all.

Katy Perry Color Pop Lashes

Katy Perry Pop Lashes box

Pop art was all about pop culture and consumerism so it makes perfect sense to see the design aesthetic on package designs.

Katy Perry may be the perfect pop art princess, and her Katy Perry Color Pop Lashes looks like something Lichtenstein would design — complete with requisite bold colors and ben day dots.

Will Fernandes

Website: Will Fernandes

It isn’t always necessary to nail every aspect of a movement in order for something to be considered it.

Will Fernandes uses a bevy of techniques for his website but it is the bright vivid colors that truly makes the site “pop” enough to be considered pop art inspired.

Kevin Bourgeois

Website: Art Battery Group

Web and packaging design aren’t the only areas that are being given the art pop treatment. The artwork by New York artist Kevin Bourgeois takes the trend of using faces in pop art and turns it into what could be seen as socio-political pop art.

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  • Alex Walker

    @roninsa – I guess these articles could be retitled ‘The 10 Minute Guide to Bluffing your way through a Pop Art Discussion’, so we have to cherry-pick what we can get into a 10 minute read.