Can something be called work of art if it doesn’t look like an art? If it only shows what’s going on around us? If it presents the reality in a way we can look at it and think: is this our reality? Is this our life?
Pop art is, like any other art movement – a rebellion. A reaction to modern art of the 50’s that was abstract, pretentious and over intense. It started in England in the 1950’s with a consumers boom and found its way into USA in 1960’s. Pop art referred to images of mass media, advertisement and consumer products. It focused on familiar images within popular culture and presented mass products as unique.
And its master, the most recognizable artist that defined modern art is Andy Warhol. Andy’s influence is everywhere and everyone is familiar with it: simplified lines, burst of colors and mechanical technique. Born in Pittsburgh, Andy began as a commercial illustrator with delicate playful drawings. His work quickly became famous and appeared in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.
But Andy wanted more. And for his work to be taken seriously as art rather than just illustration, it had to represent something. And the only thing he saw was 50’s consumer revolution. He was obsessed with shiny commercials and powerful supermarkets. Therefore, he decided to create art that will reflect world around him.
This decision, to present advertising on the canvas, gave birth to pop art. Warhol wanted to show that products of mass production could also be art in the same way that flowers and fruits could. That’s how he created Campbell’s Soup Cans, canvases with 32 cans of soup, one of the most famous paintings in the world. Those paintings were about capitalism and consumers society, but most importantly – they changed what was classified as art. They stated that everything we see around us could be put in a gallery and declared as art. Referring to visual noise of the mass society, Warhol even gave interview saying his art is not original at all and that he didn’t want to create something new because it was easier to do copies.
But what really launched Andy Warhol into art orbit was silkscreen process that became his trademark. It allowed him to create some of the most recognizable portraits of famous people like Marilyn Monroe, Jackie Onassis and Mick Jagger. In this process, Andy transferred image in reverse onto the screen and with vivid paint, changed the photo into something completely different. Silkscreen allowed layers of paint to blur out edges, creating the colorful mask on the model. In Marilyn Monroe’s case, he covered her sadness beneath color and distorted her photo the same way as media distorted her image. This type of picture shows us how the artist sees the subject, but also tell us about our reflection of the model. In the way, it is a parody of classical obsession with perfection that presented series of nearly identical images.
Making the banal and trivial interesting Warhol produced mass produced art for mass produced world and made high art into brand. His power lies in the constant repetition that calls into question American dream. And nobody’s really certain was his art comment on a modern world or just part of it. However, one thing’s for sure, Warhol took the world by storm making footprint of reality and forever redefining the role of the artist.