Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns Helped Pioneer Pop Art

In the mid 1950’s artists began to study painting not just as a two-dimensional surface with color, but as an object that desired recognition for what it represented. As a result of this, artists turned to commercial art and studied it as a vital part of their visual environment, and finally gave this art form proper recognition for its influence, impact, and reflective properties it had in regards to society and culture. Pop Art, “appropriation by fine arts of objects and images of the popular culture,” became a new school of artistic thought in the 1950’s in London, when a group of independent artists and intellectuals began to explore the impacts American Mass Media was having on the British culture.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

The first Pop Art statement was a collage constructed by a British artist Richard Hamilton entitled Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Home So Different, So Appealing? This collage combined all the elements that future Pop Artists would be employing in their designs: “comic strips, cinema, commercial design, nudes, cheap dÃ?©cor, appliances” basically all things that reflected the materialistic post-war world.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

The Pop Art Movement did not reject contemporary civilization like Dadaism did, instead it viewed commercialism as a raw material that it could use to mold into expressions and artistic statements. In the United States, Pop Art reflected the optimistic spirit of the 1960’s, and incorporated common items and symbolism used in commercial art like the American Flag, Soup Cans, and iconic characters.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Andy Warhol, was one of the most renowned Pop Artists of the 20th century. He had started his career as a commercial artist and this immersion in commercial art created a huge pool of raw material for his later Pop Art interpretations. He used Pop Art to “make ironic commentaries on modern society”, using common, everyday items like soup cans, to create an aesthetic statement that viewers could appreciate and contemplate. In his piece Gold Marilyn Monroe, Warhol used scaling, color, and iconography to isolate the star’s face in a sea of gold. While it portrayed a sense of her “tragic personality” the cropped portrait of Marilyn in off color tonalities, seemed as if the piece was a poor quality rag-mag reproduction, thus reducing the glamorous woman to a “cheap commodity.”Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Another characteristic of Pop Art is the enlargement of comic strip frames. While this alone seems insignificant, the amount of work that an artist has to do to the original piece in order for it to seem “real” to viewers when blown up, adds to its artistic value. Small details like drawing the girl’s nose so that it looked right for a comic strip character, as in Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl, and the proper spacing of dots and lines to convey texture, shading, and coloring in terms that both satisfied the qualities of the comic strip genre, and the weight and qualities necessary to satisfy the enlarged composition’s needs.

Jasper Johns was also a pioneer in this art form, yet he added dynamics and interpretations that went beyond those boundaries of Pop Art. In his painting Three Flags, Johns uses a common item, a flag, to inspire contemplation of what is really being seen and experienced. At first glance the painting is of three flags, however the intent of the painting and the effect that the viewer sees next, or interprets next is vexing. Is the painting supposed to be flapping, standing at attention, or are they supposed to be stacked one on top of another in “reverse perspective?” A deeper look reveals a “painterly” quality of the color blocks within the flags that suggest even more possibilities. This quality to inspire contemplation and interpretation of the aesthetics of common items is what makes Pop Art so interesting and revolutionary.Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½


Janson, H.W. & Janson, Anthony F. (2004). History of Art: The Western Tradition. (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall.

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