Artworks and Artists of British Pop Art
I was a rich man's plaything (1947)
This collage, composed of a selection of images from American magazines given to Paolozzi by American ex-soldiers in Paris, was created as part of a series noted for prompting the beginnings of the Pop art movement. The work is credited for being the first to use American advertising toward creating a new visual language for a post-War world.
The collage includes the cover of a magazine called "Intimate Confessions", which features a voluptuous woman who, it is implied, spills her secrets inside the magazine. Paolozzi combines this with an image of a cherry pie, pointing to the similar treatment of women and food as objects of desire in the seductive new sphere of American advertising. She is also faced with an image of a hand holding a gun, which has been fired and says "POP!" in a cartoonish way. This is considered to be the first use of the word "pop" in art of this type. The inclusion of the gun makes the effect of the work slightly sinister, giving an unsavory twist to the "confessions" supposedly revealed in the magazine. At the same time, however, the gun with its seemingly harmless "pop", perhaps points to advertisers' and consumers' preference for visual effect over real substance or quality. While this work was a vital forerunner of the movement, it also differs from later work by artists such as Richard Hamilton or Peter Blake. This early example makes use of a significantly less polished aesthetic than later Pop art works, taking dog-eared or dirty cuttings from advertisements and mounting them on a similarly marked and unclean piece of card.
Collage - Tate Modern, London
Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (1956)
For this collage, Hamilton uses images cut from American magazines to create a contemporary interior featuring fashionable furniture and modern domestic products such as a television, tape recorder, and vacuum cleaner. In the room are a muscleman holding a suggestive lollipop, which bears the word "POP", and a naked woman who is perched provocatively on the couch. The man and woman are posited as a modern day Adam and Eve, surrounded by the temptations of the American post-War consumer boom.
The work was created by Hamilton for the catalog cover of the seminal 1956 exhibition at London's Whitechapel Gallery, "This is Tomorrow," which was a key starting point for the British Pop art movement. Similarly, the work has been credited as being fundamental in initiating the movement; as early as 1965 is was described as "the first genuine work of Pop."
Hamilton's collage microcosm presents a world in which there is a constant influx of information. In drawing up a list of the image's components, Hamilton pointed to his inclusion of "comics (picture information), words (textual information) [and] tape recording (aural information)." This sense of information overload became compounded at the time by the addition of the television, newspaper, and cinema. A comic cover has been framed on the wall adjacent to a more traditional piece of artwork (which is smaller, and is relegated to the corner), illustrating both Hamilton's idea of Pop as a new kind of art with popular culture as its key source and the breakdown of the walls between fine art and graphic design.
Collage - Kunsthalle Tubingen, Tubingen
On the Balcony (1956-7)
In this piece, Blake combines images of ordinary, everyday people with a plethora of references to the theme "On the Balcony." These range from ephemeral magazines and snapshots to consumer goods to the art found in museums and galleries. For example, the figure on the left-hand side holds a copy of Eduard Manet's The Balcony (1868), while a copy of LIFE magazine obscures another figure's head. The youthful subjects appear to be teenagers and can be seen as tokens of a fresh generation receptive to Pop art's key principles, which were the breakdown of traditional understandings of the art object and sources, and the breakdown of the boundaries between art and popular culture.
Although On the Balcony may look like a collage, it is actually an oil painting. This signature technique was used by Blake to create an altogether new version of the Pop art aesthetic. His accumulation of imagery, all represented through paint on a singular plane, came to represent an overall visual consciousness which married both high and low art sources with no discernable boundaries between the two. Perceived value between subjects becomes blurred in Blake's homogenous depictions - a thumb in the eye to the hallowed halls of the institution of painting.
Oil on canvas - Tate Modern, London
Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (After Delacroix) (1963)
Made during his last year at the ICA, Caulfield chose to create his own version of a work by the same name by Delacroix. In his version, he draws on both the tradition of fine art and the aesthetics of widely distributed propaganda posters, particularly those of the Soviet Union. Indeed, the work has a political edge to it, making a statement in support of the Greeks, who fought a civil war in 1927. Caulfield uses the historical event to convey his message of the importance of freedom, a popular idea in the 1960s and amongst the Pop artists in particular. Caulfield chose to work from a black and white photograph of the painting so that he could apply his own color palette without the distraction of Delacroix's original. By simplifying and removing most of the detail, Caulfield recreates Delacroix with a distinctly modern view.
Caulfield can be seen as an early pioneer of the "flat" art movement, itself a precursor to today's graphic designers who utilize Photoshop filters to reduce realistic images to pure outline and color. Working in much the same way as a commercial sign painter, he employed simple flat images of objects lined with black and isolated against unmodulated fields of color absent of visible brushwork. He frequently used house paint (which has a limited range of colors available) and other commercial materials to create his works, in an attempt to break down the boundaries between artists and commercial painters and designers. This stark and stripped down aesthetic challenged realism while adding vibrancy to the possibilities of Pop.
Paint on board - Tate Modern, London
Brigitte Bardot (1963)
This portrait of Brigitte Bardot, universal sex symbol of the cinema, is perhaps Gerald Laing's best-known work. In it, an actual appropriated print of the starlet's face is showcased within a thick black circle. By zeroing in on her moneymaking features, the artist's hand causes us to reflect on the way we frame celebrities, viewing them as objects targeted by our societal obsession with icons of beauty and fame.
Gerald Laing's contributions to the British pop art movement often explored the relationship between an everyman audience and the pop cultural explosion that he saw around him. He created large canvases based on newspaper photographs of famous models, astronauts, film stars, and contemporary events positioned as larger than life. Moving away from the generic-based objects of everyday advertisements, his subjects represented iconic figures in the popular culture of the time and their injection into the communal psyche. His earliest pieces presented many young starlets or bikini-clad beauties but later work frequently mirrored current events. For example, his piece Souvenir (1962), commented on the Cuban missile crisis via a 3D effect, which allowed the viewer to see Khruschev from one angle and Kennedy from another.
Oil on canvas - Private Collection
Perfect Match (1966-67)
A contemporary of Hockney and Blake, Allen Jones was particularly interested in the representation of women in popular culture and advertising. In Perfect Match he creates a highly sexualized image in which all the viewer can see of the woman's face is her disproportionately large mouth while her unnaturally perky breasts and legs, tottering on impossibly high heels, are emphasized as well. The piece implies that women are only valued for their body parts. The arrangement of three separate canvases hung one on top of another as a triptych furthers this notion, pointing to the way that advertisements would often promote consumer goods by associating them with fragments of the female form.
Jones' regular use of the bright primary and secondary colors of Pop art to illustrate the body lends an unnatural feel to his figures in which they become completely artificial, just as fake as the invented images to be found in magazines and on billboards. In the late '60s this oeuvre expanded to include sexually provocative life-size fiberglass sculptures of women as furniture with fetishist and sado-masochist overtones. His work offered a challenge to traditional art representations of women to be found on orthodox gallery walls.
Jones' pieces tend to be two-fold. On the one hand they are a critique of the overt sexualization of women by the media, but they also present deliberately titillating (and sexist) images in their own right. He therefore manages to both criticize and contribute to the mainstream system from which he takes his inspiration.
Oil on canvas - Museum Ludwig, Cologne
A Bigger Splash (1967)
In A Bigger Splash, David Hockney explores how to represent the constantly moving surface of water, intrigued by the idea that a photograph could capture the event of a split second, which he sought to recreate in this painting. He said in his autobiography, "I love the idea first of all of painting like Leonardo, all his studies of water, swirling things. And I loved the idea of painting this thing that lasts for two seconds: it takes me two weeks to paint this event that lasts for two seconds." The buildings are taken from a previous drawing he had made of a Californian home, while the splash was contrived from a photograph in a magazine. The dynamism of the splash contrasts strongly with the static and rigid geometry of the house, the pool edge, the palm trees, and the striking yellow diving board, which are all carefully arranged in a grid containing the splash.
This painting becomes slightly jarred by a disjointed effect that is absolutely intentional, and in fact one of the hallmarks of Hockney's style. The effect nods to the stylization and artificiality presented at the time of a "perfect" lifestyle within the modern home lexicon while drawing on the aesthetic vocabulary of Pop art and fusing it with Cubism.
Although a significant member of British Pop art's early generation of artists, David Hockney came to take Pop art painting in a new direction incorporating lifestyle architecture and fantasy landscapes into his work. He was also one of the first artists to make extensive use of acrylic paint, which was then a relatively new artistic medium.
Acrylic on canvas - Tate Gallery, London