Pop art (Andy Warhol and Pop Art)

What is Pop Art?

Pop Art was a challenge to the established status quo of traditional painting that started in the UK and slowly shifted to the United States. Especially in the US, it came almost as a rebellion to the abstract expressionism which was viewed as too serious and pointless, as abstract expressionists in their work depicted mental suffering. Denial of abstract expressionism can be understood within the context of the world emerging from the Second World War and all the trauma that it caused to the people around the world. So, Pop Art drew its inspiration from the popular American culture such as comics, movie actors, celebrities, cartoons, news and commercial ads. Following the Second World War, the United States has emerged with a robust and growing economy that did not take the toll of destruction like other European countries. In Europe and the UK which was still recovering economically,  the bright and colorful pop art colors of red, yellow and blue idealized the American carefree lifestyle and consumer society.

Pop Art

Before the advent of Pop Art, the art, the paintings were viewed as something classical that is beyond the touch of the mass culture of everyday and mundane life. But during the 1950s the Pop Art revolution began to emerge both in the UK and in the United States in its own distinct ways. The coining of the term “pop art” is credited to the Independent Group, a group of sculptors, painters, artists who created a group in London, UK in 1952 and came up with the term during their discussions. In particular, during one of the group meetings, Eduardo Paolozzi,one of the predecessors of pop art presented his collection of posters of ads he collected while in Paris between 1947 and 1949. 

Andy Warhol and his place in Pop Art Movement

Andy Warhol (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987) in Pittsburg, Pensylvannia to immigrant parents who emigrated from modern day Slovakia. His father worked in coal mines and practiced catholic faith. At the age of 10, Warhol was diagnosed with an illness which is believed to be a complication from scarlet fever. The disease impaired his nervous system making his limbs and extremities move involuntarily, causing him to be periodically sick and be constrained to bed. During these times, The artist would spend long hours listening to radio, drawing on paper and collecting posters of celebrities. Ironically, this period in his life would have the biggest impact on his later career and success as one of the most influential Pop Art figures in American history. 

After graduating from Carnegie Institute in 1949 with a degree in Pictorial Design, Andy Warhol moved to New York and got his first job with Glamour magazine as an illustrator of shoes. ’s first job was as a graphic designer and illustrator of shoes for a Vogue magazine in New York. His work as an illustrator began to be recognized as other prestigious clients such as New York Times, Vogue and shoe manufacturer Israel Miller started to commission his work. 

While drawing the shoe designs, he would apply ink on paper with a drawing and rub it out while still fresh to get the desired shapes. A clean piece of paper would be put on top of the fresh ink, which would result in a new image. This way, applying ink in different manners on a drawing, would yield different images with different shapes in a fast manner. This method would become one of his staple signatures known as the “blotted line” technique.He would successfully carry this skill into the 1960s when he applied it on silkscreen printmaking and made it his signature style. This period (1962-1964) coincided with his drawings of American celebrities such as Mohammad Ali, Merilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Kennedy and other celebrities. He also drew popular American consumer products such as Coca-Cola bottles, Brillo pads, and Martinson’s coffee cans.

Famous pop art paintings by Andy Warhol

Famous pop art paintings of Andy Warhol would be considered his Marilyn Monroe work done in 1962, after the death of the actress. He did the portrait in his own style made up of two canvases each depicting 25 portraits of Monroe, with one canvas showing the portraits in bright colors and showing her happy, while the other work showing her face stern in black and white. This work was exhibited in New York in 1962 during his first exhibition. “Orange Marilyn” another famous portrait of the famous actress from 1964 estimated to be sold for $17.3 million USD in 1998, four times more than what Warhol got paid originally.  But his masterpiece from 1963 titled Silver Car Crash was worth US$ 105 million is the highest price that Warhol’s painting was valued. 

But, the name synonymous with the Andy Warhol is Campbell’s soup cans, which was believed to be created across three stages of the author’s life. In his early career Warhol was struggling to find his niche as the comics art he created just wasn’t as good as his contemporary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. So heeding the advice of a friend Roy Muriel, he started to paint the Campbell’s soup cans.  The first and last solo exhibit by Andy Warhol in 1962 in Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, on his debut artwork Campbell’s canned soup which is also known as “32 Campbell’s Soup Cans.  This collection consisted of 32 canvases of 20 inch in height and 16 inch in width, each picture representing a variety of Campbell’s soup flavor. While only 5 of the canvases were bought for US$100 each, Irving Blum the curator of the Ferus Gallery bought it back and kept all 32 paintings together. This collection is stored and featured at the Museum of Modern Arts in New York.  In 1965 Warhol goes on to paint another series on Campbell’s tomato soup cans under the name “Colored Campbell’s Soup Cans” introducing new unique colors of orange, green, blue, purple and metallic colors. It was a deviation from his previous work that utilized only red, yellow and white colors. But the biggest price any soup can brought was the small torn tomato soup can produced in 1962, assumed to be created before the soup collection series, was sold for US$11.7 million in 2006. And ultimately, the “Campbell’s Soup Can and the Can Opener” from 1962 was sold for US23,9 million in 2010.

Andy Warhol worked from his New York studio apartment that he dubbed as “The Factory” and created many of his famous pop art paintings. His artwork is considered to be among the most expensive ones in the pop art genre and he himself took place in history as one of the influential artists in the pop art era of the 1960s which coincided with the rise of commercial advertising and consumerism in the US. Andy Warhol died in 1987 in New York following complications from a surgery. 

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