Dictionary of Art and Artists







MODERN ART


Impressionism to Post-Modernism




 

 

 

 

Contents:

1 Impressionism

2 Symbolism and Art Nouveau

3 Fauvism and Expressionism

4 Cubism, Futurism and Constructivism

5 Dada and Surrealism

6 Abstract Expressionism

7 Pop

8 Pluralism since 1960

 

 

 

 



7. Pop

(SIMON WILSON)

 

The term 'Pop Art' refers to a stylistic development in Western art which occurred roughly between 1956 and 1966 in Great Britain and the United States. There were related developments in Europe during the same period.

Pop art has three major distinguishing characteristics. Firstly, it is both figurative and realist, something that avant-garde art had not been since its very beginnings with Courbet's Realism. In 1861 Courbet published a manifesto of Realism in the Paris Courrier du dimanche in which he stated that for an artist the practice of art should involve 'bringing to bear his faculties on the ideas and objects of the period in which he lives'. Six years earlier he had stated the same thing in more personal terms in the short manifesto attached to the catalogue of his 1855 exhibition: 'To know in order to be able to do, that was my thought. To be in a position to translate the habits, the ideas, the appearance of my time ... in a word, to make a living art, that is my aim.' This vitally important idea that artists must deal with the contemporary world and with life as well as with art is also the basis of Pop art. Just over a century after Courbet's manifesto, Roy Lichtenstein, one of the creators of Pop art in America, told an interviewer: 'Outside is the world; it's there. Pop art looks out into the world.'

Secondly, Pop was created in New York and London, and the world it looks out on is therefore the very special world of the great mid-twentieth-century metropolis. Pop is rooted in the urban environment. Not only that, but Pop looks at special aspects of that environment, aspects which because of their associations and cultural level seemed at first impossible as subjects of art. These were: comics and picture magazines; advertisements and packaging of all kinds; the world of popular entertainment, including Hollywood movies, pop music and fairgrounds, amusement arcades, radio, television and tabloid newspapers; consumer durables, especially perhaps refrigerators and automobiles; highways and gas stations; foodstuffs, especially hot dogs, ice cream and pie; and, last but not least, money.

Thirdly, Pop artists deal with this subject matter in a very special way. On one hand they insist that the comic strip or soup can or whatever is simply a 'motif, an excuse for a painting, like an apple in a still-life by Cezanne. Roy Lichtenstein, for example has stated: 'Once I am involved with the painting I think of it as an abstraction. Half the time they are upside down anyway when I work.' On the other hand, whereas in a Cezanne the motif is a traditional and familiar one, and it is easy for the spectator to ignore it and concentrate on the formal qualities of the painting, in Pop art the motif is in no way traditional, is of a kind which had never before been used as a basis for art, and therefore strongly engages the spectator's attention.
Not only was the motif of a new kind; its presentation was often (especially in the work of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol) startlingly literal - it looked more like the real thing than ever before in the history of art. The result was a kind of art which combined the abstract and the figurative in a quite new way: it was realism, but done in the light and full knowledge of all that had happened in modern art since the time of Courbet.
 


New York


Marcel Duchamp arrived in New York from Paris in 1915. With him he brought, as a present for his friend, the collector Walter Arensberg, one of his own works, a part of Paris (some of its air, in fact) simply enclosed in a glass globe. Duchamp had begun to produce works of this type, called 'readymades', two years before in 1913. They were bits of reality — usually man-made objects, but sometimes, as with Paris Air, taken from nature - presented as art, either modified ('assisted') or with no more intervention by the artist than an inscription or just a signature. The first 'assisted readymade' was the 1913 Bicycle Wheel , and it was in New York in 1917 that he produced his most notorious readymade, the Fountain, a men's urinal of the wall-mounted type which Duchamp simply signed R. Mutt (apparently the name of a sanitary engineer). These works were not intended as sensuous objects but as demonstrations of an idea.


Marcel Duchamp. Fountain

 

The assisted readymades illustrate the proposition that the work of an artist - any artist - consists essentially in the assembling of pre-existent materials, which may perfectly well be readymade ones. The readymades proper go even further in showing that the creating of art need not necessarily be a manual activity but can be purely a matter of making choices. They also showed that no aspect of the world could be considered to lie outside the artist's scope. These were the ideas that were taken up again in New York (where Duchamp was still living and working) by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, and passed on by them to the Pop artists.

In 1955
Rauschenberg made his painting Bed (1955), consisting of real bedclothes with paint slurped and dripped over them, the whole then mounted and hung on the wall. This was one of the first of his so-called combine paintings, in which the paint is used to integrate real objects into the work. These paintings, often intruded parts of themselves into the spectator's space - i.e. they became part of the real world - and it was at the time he was making them that Rauschenberg also made his significant and much-quoted remark that he was operating 'in the gap between art and life'. As well as the combine paintings Rauschenberg made fully three-dimensional works, one of which, Coca-Cola Plan of 1958, prominently incorporated three Coca-Cola bottles, objects which were later to become one of the major motifs of Pop art.


Robert Rauschenberg. Bed


Robert Rauschenberg. Coca-Cola Plan

Like Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns is both a painter and a constructor of objects, and his contribution to the development of Pop art was, if anything, more significant than that of his fellow artist. Also from about 1955, Johns began to produce extraordinary paintings of familiar, even banal, objects and images, initially targets and the American flag, although later he used maps of the USA and numbers. These motifs possessed three vital qualities for Johns: they were very familiar; they were two-dimensional; and they were simple and visually striking. Depicting a two-dimensional object like the American Flag in the two-dimensional medium of painting resulted in works which were at a casual glance indistinguishable from the real thing, an effect Johns strongly reinforced in some of his flag paintings by taking the flag right to the edge of the canvas and eliminating any illusion of it being an image on a ground. At the same time the flag is a bold abstract design, and Johns's paintings of it are executed in a range of ravishing colours (sometimes close to the original, sometimes not), in a technique of extreme painterly refinement and sensuousness, so that they mark the first appearance in American painting of that combination of strong formal and abstract qualities with familiar, immediately recognizable imagery which is a characteristic of Pop art.

Johns applied the same system in three-dimensional art when he made his famous sculpture of two Ballantyne Ale Cans in i960. More perhaps than the flag paintings, these beer cans looks so close to their source as almost to preclude the possibility of their being art. But in fact they are beautifully cast in patinated bronze; the labels are meticulously hand-painted; and, thus translated, the twin cylinders assert a strongly sculptural quality.


Jasper Johns. American Flag


Jasper Johns. Ballantyne Ale Cans

The new possibilities offered by the art of Johns and Rauschenberg were taken up by the Pop artists in New York partly in reaction against the dominance of Abstract Expressionism. This kind of painting was based on the idea that art should be a direct record of the artist's inner impulses and states of mind, and it was therefore intensely personal and unworldly - precisely the opposite of Pop art, in fact. It manifested itself in a variety of forms, between the two extremes of Jackson Pollock's dynamic, gestural action painting and Mark Rothko's static, softly brushed fields of colour.

It was Roy Lichtenstein who best articulated the Pop artists' attitude to Abstract Expressionism when he said: 'art has become extremely romantic and unrealistic, feeding on art, it is Utopian, it has less and less to do with the world, it looks inward'. And again, commenting on the situation in the late 1950s when Abstract Expressionism had become hugely successful and was being rapidly debased as a style by second-rate artists: 'It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one would hang it — everybody was hanging everything. It was almost acceptable to hang a dripping paint rag, everybody was accustomed to this. The one thing everybody hated was commercial art; apparently they didn't hate that enough either.'

The problem was twofold: art had become inward-looking and unrealistic, and it had become debased through commercial exploitation. The Pop artists' solution was to bring art firmly back into contact with the world and with life, and to look for subject matter that would ensure a degree of unacceptability. It is one of the ironies of art history that, as Lichtenstein wryly points out in his final remark quoted above, Pop art in New York became at least as commercial as Abstract Expressionism, if not more so, and in less than half the time.

Roy Lichtenstein began his career as a painter about 1951 with pictures which were, in his own words, 'mostly reinterpretations of those artists concerned with the opening of the West, such as Remington, with a subject matter of cowboys, Indians, treaty signings'. From 1957 his work became Abstract Expressionist in the prevailing mode, but about i960, he says, 'I began putting hidden comic images into those paintings, such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny. At the same time I was drawing little Mickey Mouses and things for my children and working from bubble gum wrappers. I remember specifically. Then it occurred to me to do one of these bubble gum wrappers, as is, large just to see what it would look like.' The result, he found, was extremely interesting, and thus began his use of advertising and comic strip imagery which in the next few years was to make him one of the most prominent New York Pop artists. Asked why he chose to use such apparently degraded, unaesthetic source material, Lichtenstein spoke perhaps for all the Pop artists when he replied: T accept it as being there, in the world. . . . Signs and comic strips are interesting as subject matter. There are certain things that are useable, forceful and vital about commercial art.'

Lichtenstein's early works drawn from advertising, Roto Broil (1961), Chop (1962), Woman in Bath (1963), reveal his striking ability to organize the crude but vital designs of his original sources into unified, powerful and coherent formal structures, while still retaining references to the original so strong that the spectator is constantly kept aware both of the figurative image, with its source (advertisements or comics), and of the traditional physical facts of painting - colour, line, form, composition and so on.


Roy Lichtenstein. Roto Broil


Roy Lichtenstein. Woman in Bath

However, the formal, abstract message of Lichtenstein's painting was far from clear to everyone in the early days; many critics complained that he was simply blowing up comic strips and advertisements, that he did not 'transform' his sources. It is important to realize that Lichtenstein does alter his sources, although he still insists that he does not transform them. In 1963, replying to his critics, he said: 'Transformation is a strange word to use. It implies that art transforms. It doesn't, it just plain forms. Artists have never worked with the model —just with the painting. . . . My work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some.'

Lichtenstein's working procedure is in fact, as follows: having located a source image he then makes a drawing or sketch of it (just as, for example, John Constable would make a sketch of a particular piece of Suffolk landscape for later elaboration into a full-size painting). The purpose of the sketch is to recompose rather than reproduce the original, and although Lichtenstein says he tries to make as little change as possible he sometimes combines two or three sources into one image or even makes it up altogether. He then projects the drawing on to the canvas using an epidiascope and traces it in pencil. Further compositional adjustments may be made at this stage, before the dots are stencilled on, the colours applied and the characteristic thick black or blue lines put in. The dots in particular help to reproduce the feel of the printing process used for comic strips and advertisements, but Lichtenstein retains too the bright primaries and impersonal surfaces of his sources, and he once said that he wanted to hide the record of his hand.

The results of this procedure can be seen in Roto Broil, where the appliance itself, placed symmetrically against a uniform field of red, is treated in terms of bold simplified masses of black and white. Particularly striking is the rendering of the drainage holes in the frying-pan as black discs which take on a life of their own in the same way as they would in a completely abstract painting such as, for example, Vasarely's Supernovae. The symmetry of the composition is calculatedly broken by the black lines (paradoxically indicating highlights) on the right side of the appliance and by the protruding handle of the pan on the same side. And in Woman in Bath the prominent square grid contrasts strongly with the amazing system of flowing, swelling, organic linear forms which represents the girl's hair. This ability to create forms and compositions which are powerfully expressive in themselves yet remain readable as vivid representational images lies at the very core of Lichtenstein's genius and is the source of the extraordinary richness and complexity of his paintings.

Between 1963 and 1965 Lichtenstein produced two large groups of paintings which stand out from the rest of his work. In them forms, lines, colours, are increasingly abstract and expressive in themselves, and at the same time subject matter comes into greater prominence: based on romance and war comics respectively, these two groups of works deal with some of the fundamental dramas of human life. M - Maybe of 1965 depicts a girl (very attractive as in all Lichtenstein's love-comic paintings) waiting for a man (a theme taken up in a number of these works) in an imprecise but emphatically urban setting. Both her expression and the caption, 'M — Maybe he became ill and couldn't leave the studio', make it clear that she has been waiting a long time and is worried. Beyond that, like a Victorian narrative painter, Lichtenstein invites the spectator to speculate: who is the girl? who is the man with the studio? film star, photographer, broadcaster, artist even? and what is the nature of the situation? has he stood her up for another woman? is he really ill? fatally injured perhaps?

Sweet Dreams, Baby, like the war images, is an icon of aggression, depicting as it does the single knockout blow that every man secretly wishes he could deliver in answer to an insult, to settle an argument, to win or protect a girl, and it refers to the American ideal of masculinity in more ways than one: the fist is a very clear phallic symbol, and although the recipient of the blow is a man the words of the caption, 'Sweet dreams, baby!' could equally well be addressed to a girl and take on an erotic implication. There is an interesting subgroup of the romance-comic paintings which consists of paintings exclusively of girls' heads. One of these is the Blonde Waiting of 1964, one of the most beautifully and most strangely composed of all Lichtenstein's paintings, one of the masterpieces of Pop.


Roy Lichtenstein. Sweet Dreams, Baby


Roy Lichtenstein. Blonde Waiting

Andy Warhol was born in Pittsburgh, USA, probably in 1928. He went to Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh from 1945 to 1949, then moved to New York where he remained. During the 1950s he worked as a commercial artist and was highly successful, winning the Art Directors' Club Medal for Shoe Advertisements in 1957. He had several one-man exhibitions of drawings and published a number of books of drawings on a variety of themes (cats and boys were two of them). His life style at this time was affluent and elegant, and he collected art, having, it appears, a particular taste for Surrealist paintings (he owned works by Magritte among others).

In 1960, at the same time as, but quite independently of, Roy Lichtenstein, he began to make paintings based on comic strips and advertisements. One of the earliest of these is Dick Tracy of 1960, which still shows strong Abstract Expressionist influence: the caption is partially obscured by loosely brushed paint, drips of paint run down over Tracy's face, and that of his companion is treated partly as hard, comic-strip outline and partly again as loosely brushed paint. Thus, as in a work of Rauschenberg of the mid 1950s, popular imagery is still being integrated into a painterly structure, although Warhol is already presenting that imagery in a much more dispassionate manner than ever
Rauschenberg did. Unlike Lichtenstein, Warhol almost immediately abandoned comic-strip imagery, probably as being too anecdotal, and began to base his work on commercial and popular images that were much less obviously chosen by the artist with an eye to their content or visual quality. Indeed one of the crucial qualities of Warhol's images is their extreme obviousness: the most famous brands, Campbell's Soup, Coco-Cola; the most famous people, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor; the most famous painting of the past, the Mona Lisa; the most familiar objects, dollar bills, newspapers. And when the individual image is chosen in itself an unfamiliar one, as with the car crashes, electric chairs, race riots, H-bomb explosions and so on, it always belongs to a category of images very familiar through the mass media. The effect of this choice of imagery is to give the baffling impression, even more strongly than in the case of Lichtenstein, that the artist has no interest in his images, that he is making no comment, that the images have no particular significance. Further, Warhol presented them in such a way that they appeared to have undergone little or no processing by the artist — they had not been 'transformed' into art, although his early paintings were in fact meticulously hand-done.

In 1962 he began to make his paintings by the silk-screen printing process, a sophisticated form of stencil usually used by artists for the multiple production of graphic work. Not only did he take the unprecedented step of using a printing process for the production of paintings but he adopted a recent commercial development of silk-screen printing whereby the image, instead of being laboriously cut by hand, is applied to the screen by photo-mechanical means. The actual printing
Warhol did continue to do by hand, although it would often be carried out by an assistant under his supervision. In adopting this mechanical method Warhol seems to have simply been pursuing the logic of an art based on mass-produced imagery. But its effect, combined with the banality of his images, was to make his paintings appear completely meaningless, and this was reinforced by his frequent practice of repeating his images, often a large number of times, either on the same canvas or on separate canvases in series.

Of course, the paintings are not really meaningless. Warhol's images, in spite of their familiarity, in spite of their ready availability elsewhere than in his paintings, in spite, or even because, of their dispassionate presentation, remain extremely potent. His work, looked at overall, reveals certain constant and significant preoccupations with fame, with glamour, with death, with violence and disaster and with money. Nor do the images lack formal or aesthetic significance. Repetition is the means that Warhol used to reduce them to the status of elements in the composition - Cezanne's apples again. The spectator's attention is directed away from the image as such and towards a consideration of what the artist has done to it. A close scrutiny of say 200 Campbell's Soup or Marilyn Diptych, both early silk-screen paintings, reveals that no single image is quite the same as any other. There are for example variations in paint texture and density which affect the detail, and the colours are sometimes out of register, producing distortions of form. Even Cow Wallpaper is more comic statement than mechanical repetition.
 


Andy Warhol. Marilyn Diptych


Andy Warhol. Cow Wallpaper

As John Copland has pointed out, 'Though the silk-screen process is simple many things can go wrong. For instance, if the medium is stroked across the image unevenly, if the density of the medium varies, if the squeegee is worn or dirty, or if there is insufficient medium to complete a stroke, the image will not print evenly. Parts of the image will become occluded or the dirt will print tracks, etc. The sharpness of the image will also vary according to the pressure exerted on the squeegee, or the angle it is held at. Many of these defficiencies will often work their way into the mesh and, unless the screen is cleaned, will show up in subsequent images. These normally accidental effects are often deliberately sought by Warhol.' So in Warhol's hands the silk-screen becomes a highly flexible means of creating expressive paint surfaces and forms. He exercised far more control over the production of his work than is generally supposed. As Richard Morphet tells us, 'Those who physically helped to make paintings in The Factory [Warhold's name for his studio] have explained how in even the most casual-seeming serial paintings Warhol was minutely concerned about the degree of painterly texture in background colours, and the exact choice of colour itself, not always taking it straight from the can but often mixing it into new hues and testing on strips of canvas until the desired shade was obtained'. Furthermore, Warhol  frequently heightened his screened images with touches of colour applied with a brush (he did this in some of the Marilyn paintings for example); and of course both the arrangement of the images (in regular rows, or occasionally in slightly more complex configurations, as in Mona Lisa 1963, where some of the images are on their side) and the determining of the relationship of the image or block of images to the ground are conscious compositional procedures.


Andy Warhol. Marilyn


Andy Warhol. Mona Lisa

There is no doubt that the most striking formal aspect of Warhol's painting is his vivid, varied and highly expressive use of colour, ranging from the close correspondence to the original in 200 Campbell's Soup through the sinister monochrome washes of Orange Disaster and Green Disaster, and the sumptuous and subtle harmony of orange, blue and yellow of Marilyn Diptych, to the stunning variations (to which no reproduction can remotely do justice) of the Marilyn prints of 1967. Finally, the almost complete dissolution of the image by intense and vibrant colour takes place in the great Self-Portraits of 1967.


Andy Warhol. Green Disaster


Andy Warhol. Self-Portraits

In these, among his last works before he abandoned painting for film making and other activities, the wheel has turned full circle: after his first portraits of Marilyn in 1962 Warhol himself became a star, a celebrity, became in fact a subject for his own art. But these self-portraits must be among the most self-effacing in the history of art: the image is difficult to read, and deciphering it brings the realization that Warhol has based the painting on a photograph taken with his hand in front of his face half hiding it. Once again, and more forcibly than in any of his previous work, he is directing our attention away from the image, to the painting as something to look at in terms of coloured surfaces as you would look at a Monet or a Matisse. As he himself said, 'I think painting is the same as it has always been. It confuses me that people expect Pop art to make a comment or say that its adherents merely accept their environment. I've viewed most of the paintings I've ever loved — Mondrian's, Matisse's, Pollock's - as being rather deadpan in that sense. All painting is fact and that is enough; the paintings are charged with their very presence. The situation, physical ideas, physical presence — I feel this is the comment'; and: 'If you want to know about Andy Warhol just look at the surface of my paintings and films and me and there I am. There's nothing behind it.'

Claes Oldenburg was born in Sweden in 1929 and brought to the United States, where his father was on diplomatic service in New York, as a small child. In 1936 the family moved to Chicago, where Claes grew up and after taking a degree in Art and Literature at Yale University became an apprentice newspaper reporter. In 1952 he decided to become an artist and for two years attended the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1956 he moved to New York and settled on the Lower East Side, an area he has continued to live in, and which has exerted an important influence on him. From the beginning he had an exceptionally strong sense of engagement with the urban environment, 'the experience of the city', but in a significantly different aspect of it from those which had drawn the attention of Lichtenstein and Warhol: 'The streets, in particular, fascinated me. They seemed to have an existence of their own where I discovered a whole world of objects that I had never known before. Ordinary packages became sculptures in my eye, and I saw street refuse as elaborate accidental compositions.'

The results of this activity, his first mature works, were shown in two exhibitions at the Judson Gallery in 1959 and 1960. The second of these exhibitions was actually called 'The Street', and consisted of figures, signs and objects constructed from discarded or fragile materials: cardboard, paper, sacking, string. Many of the works were Ray Guns — strange objects made in a variety of materials but based on the ray gun of space comics, a kind of mascot and basic form for Oldenburg that engenders endless variations. It is a symbol of the city itself- Ray Gun spelt backwards is Nug Yar, which
Oldenburg says sounds to him like New York - and as a phallic symbol also it relates to another of Oldenburg's fundamental preoccupations: the erotic. Taken as a whole, the exhibition was an extraordinary poetic evocation of the city through the medium of some of its humblest and least valued materials.

In the autumn of 1960, recalls
Oldenburg, 'I drove around the city one day with Jimmy Dine. By chance we drove through Orchard Street, both sides of which are packed with small stores. As we drove I remember having a vision of 'The Store'. I saw, in my mind's eye a complete environment based on this theme. Again it seemed to me that I had discovered a new world, I began wandering through stores - all kinds and all over — as though they were museums. I saw the objects displayed in windows and on counters as precious works of art.'

In late summer 1961,
Oldenburg moved to a studio in East Second Street which became 'The Store', filled with sculptures of food, clothing and other objects, made mainly of chicken-wire and plaster-soaked muslin or sacking, cheap and commonplace materials as before. In September 1962 he extended the idea of 'The Store' in a second version shown at the Green Gallery.

'The Store' sculptures were brightly, even vividly painted. Their colour is a very significant aspect of them; they are paintings as well as sculptures — and, as
 Oldenburg has stated, the paints themselves carry a direct reference to their source in the urban store: 'The Street was a metaphor for line. The Store became a metaphor for colour. In an East Side paint store, I found a line of paints, Frisco Enamel, which came in seven particularly bright colours that seemed to symbolize the store to me. These colours became my palette. The paint would be used straight from the can without any mixing or blending of colour to paint reliefs of store objects.'

These works - Giant Blue Pants, Breakfast Table, Kitchen Stove, White Shirt and Blue Tie are a few of them - do not, as a work by Warhol or Lichtenstein does, refer you immediately to their source in the outside world. Some of them, it is true, incorporate real objects - the stove and the table for example - but these are primarily a means of display, like a sculpture pedestal in a museum. The effect of the reliefs of the store objects themselves is to stimulate the imagination. They are pants, shirt, food; but they could also be almost anything else, or simply abstract shapes, accumulations of plaster and paint. This effect has been well described (as reported by the critic Rublowsky) by a visitor to Oldenburg's studio who noticed an object he had made. 'It was a vaguely wedge-shaped piece of plaster crudely spattered with aluminium paint. He picked it up and tried to identify it. "It's a lady's handbag," he said, as he turned the object about his hand. "No, it's an iron. No, it's a typewriter. No, it's a toaster. No, a piece of pie." Oldenburg was delighted: the object, which was nothing more than a shape the artist had been toying with, was exactly what the visitor had described. All the objects he named were embodied in that small wedge-shaped bit of plaster.'

This equivalence of form, the way in which one form can simultaneously relate to many other forms, fascinates
Oldenburg and is the basis of his art.

In the second 'Store' exhibition
Oldenburg showed a number of sculptures which differed from those in the rest of the show, and from his earlier works, in two important ways. Some of them had been enormously scaled up, like the Hamburger, Popsicle, Price, which is three feet (0.9m) high; and some of these were, a thing unprecedented in the history of sculpture, soft and yielding rather than hard and unchanging. One of the earliest of these soft sculptures was the Floorburger (Giant Hamburger) of 1962, which is seven feet (2.13m) across and a little over four feet 11.21m) thick. It is made of canvas filled with foam and cardboard and painted.


Claes Oldenburg. Kitchen Stove


Claes Oldenburg. Hamburger, Popsicle, Price

Both these changes related to Oldenburg's interest in the equivalence of forms. The change in scale of the hamburger opens up a whole new range of references, and, by removing the art object even further from its original source, draws the spectator's attention even more strongly than before to the purely sculptural qualities of the work: its shape, colour, texture and so on. This concern for scale culminated in the plans for giant monuments which Oldenburg drew up from 1965 onwards. These monuments are colossal versions either of street furniture, like the Giant Fireplug which Oldenburg has imagined placed in the Civic Centre in Chicago, or of everyday objects, like the Trowel Scale B, one of the regrettably few Oldenburg monuments to have been built and installed.
The change from hard to soft was even more far-reaching; for a soft sculpture does not just passively refer to other forms but can actually metamorphose, change its shape. A soft sculpture by Oldenburg never looks the same in successive installations; and while it remains installed the action of gravity produces gradual changes: Oldenburg actually harnesses a fundamental natural force as part of the sculptural process. The Gianl Soft Swedish Light Switch of 1966, with its mysterious sagging forms, is a marvellous example of this.


Claes Oldenburg. Giant Fireplug


Claes Oldenburg. Trowel Scale B

Claes Oldenburg has tried to create an art which is universal in its significance. Taking his point of departure from the specific and familiar in everyday life, he has attempted to make sculptures which stand for everything: sculptures that are embodiments of and metaphors for the whole of life. That this is his aim is made quite clear in his statement, one of the most moving manifestos in the history of modern art, first published in 1961:

'I am for an art that is political—erotical—mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.

'I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero.

'I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top.

'I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent or whatever is necessary.

'I am for an art that takes its forms from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.'

James Rosenquist studied art at the University of Minnesota from 1952 to 1955. During one of his summer vacations he took a job with an industrial decorating company, travelling through the Midwest painting the outsides of warehouses and enormous grain storage bins. In 1955 he won a scholarship to the Art Students' League in New York where he completed his studies. In the following years he supported himself in a number of different jobs, but in particular he worked for some time painting billboards for an advertising company. Both the industrial decorating and the billboard painting clearly had a considerable effect on his development as an artist, affecting his subject matter, the overall scale of his work, and particularly his sense of scale within the painting, as well as his highly individual way of composing.

Recalling the first of his jobs, Rosenquist said: 'Now picture this scene: there's this stretch of wall at least as big as a football field and way down in one corner is this man with a bucket of paint.' Speaking of the time he worked on the thirty- by one-hundred-foot billboard of the Astor-Victoria cinema in Times Square, he said that he had the opportunity 'to see things in a new relationship'. Working on a particular bit of figure or letter of the alphabet, 'you couldn't see the whole thing at once, it was like infinity . . . everything looked different'. These statements have a direct reference to the pictorial devices used in Rosenquist's paintings like I Love lou with my Ford (1961), one of his earlier masterpieces, in which enormous out-of-focus fragments of Ford motor car, girl's face, spaghetti in tomato, are brought together to express the erotic theme implied in the title: the Ford phallic symbol looms over the face of the girl, her eyes closed and lips parted in ecstasy, while below the consummation is somehow symbolized by the writhing, glutinous masses of spaghetti. Rosenquist's pictures reflect his own experience of billboard painting, but they also reflect the similarly fragmented kaleidoscopic visual experience of the city dweller as he walks through busy streets with buildings and hoardings towering over him or catches a brief glimpse of them from the windows of a car or bus.


James Rosenquist. I Love lou with my Ford

Tom Wesselmann's university career was sporting rather than scholarly or artistic, and it was only when he was drafted into the army that he began to learn to draw, with the ambition of becoming a cartoonist. With this in mind, after leaving the army he enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy and then spent from 1957 to i960 at the Cooper Union art school in New York. It was there that he discovered painting and the world of art, and towards the end of his final year he abandoned cartooning altogether and turned his whole attention to painting and collage. His early collages involved old newspapers, rags, leaves and old package labels used for the sake of their colour and texture, but a crucial development in his art took place in i960 when he began to use collage elements to represent themselves, and combined them with paint in works dealing in a new way with two traditional themes — the nude and the still-life. The subjects of his still-lifes are taken from billboard advertisements for food, drink, cigarettes and consumer durables (these last often represented by the real thing, so well integrated into the composition that it is difficult to tell whether it is painted or not).

Wesselmann's nudes, most of which belong to the series of Great American Nudes which he started in 1962 and is still continuing, derive their formal strength and qualities from Matisse, an important influence on Wesselmann; but they refer also to the soft-core porn glamour nude of the Playboy type of magazine. However, they are often both more frankly and more effectively erotic than any Playboy nude; and perhaps Wesselmann's greatest achievement has been to fill a long-standing gap in the history of art by fully eroticizing the nude in 'high-art' painting.
 


Tom Wesselmann. Great American Nude

Robert Indiana uses words as images, and presents them in his paintings, not only as forceful visual experiences but also as injunctions, slogans or messages to the spectator. These words relate to the American Dream and other aspects of American life which, however, Indiana does not accept without comment. It is pretty hard to swallow the whole thing about the American Dream. It started the day the Pilgrims landed, the dream, the idea that Americans have more to eat than anyone else. But I remember going to bed without enough to eat.' In his 1961 painting titled The American Dream, and in the later Demuth Five, the dream is seen in terms of a pinball game where winner takes all and a false move brings up the tilt sign. Using hard-edged imagery taken from the pinball machine, and flat areas of very bright colour, Indiana incorporates his message in a particularly abstract, impersonal and deadpan form, and he once said: 'I still use a brush because I have not found a machine inexpensive enough to take its place.' Other paintings simply proclaim EAT, DIE, HUG, ERR, or, most famous of all, with its flat interlocking areas of shimmering complementary colours, LOVE.


Robert Indiana. Demuth Five


Robert Indiana. LOVE

Allan D'Arcangelo had his first exhibition in New York in 1963, by which time Pop art was thoroughly established. However, he at once made his own a particular area of imagery — the American highway — and has produced a whole series of paintings like Highway No. 2 (1963), in which the immense distances of the United States are romantically evoked through the use of zooming perspective and the imagery of road signs. Like Robert Indiana, D'Arcangelo paints in an extremely tight, flat manner, his imagery always subsumed in a precise geometric composition.


Allan D'Arcangelo. Highway No. 2


The West Coast

American Pop art was created and developed in New York, but found rapid and early acceptance and a particular individual character on the West Coast, where activity was focused on the two centres of Los Angeles in the south and San Francisco in the north. Los Angeles emerged as the more important centre, and was the first to recognize the genius of Andy Warhol, giving him his first one-man show as a fully fledged Pop artist in 1962. The city of Los Angeles itself, perhaps the most extraordinary urban environment in the world, was an important influence on West Coast Pop, and it is also, of course, the home of Hollywood, itself an important influence on Pop art everywhere. Equally significant were the various exotic subcultures that flourish in the area: those of the surfer, the hot-rodders, the drag-racers, the car customizers and the outlow motor cycle clubs like Satan's Slaves and, most famous of all, Hell's Angels.

Commemorated in the title of Tom Wolfe's essay The Randy Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, the amazing paint jobs and baroque bodywork created by the car customizers and the elaborate decorations of the California surfboards are examples of an industrial folk art of great impact and brilliance which set the tone for much West Coast Pop art. So too were the bizarre drag-racing cars and hot rods, and so was the Hell's Angels' 'chopped hog', a Harley-Davidson 74 which in the hands of the Angels was stripped down and rebuilt to become virtually a mobile piece of sculpture. The Angels' uniform was also a rich item of folk art, particularly the sleeveless denim jacket bearing the 'colours': a winged skull wearing a motor cycle helmet with the name Hell's Angels above with, below, the letters MC and the local chapter name, e.g. San Bernardino. These jackets were further decorated with chains, swastikas and other signs, slogans and emblems: such as the number 13 (indicating use of marijuana), and the notorious red wings.

The world of customizing and of the big bikes is strongly reflected in the work of one of the two major Los Angeles Pop artists. Billy Al Bengston has worked since 1960 on a series of paintings of chevrons and motor-bike badges and parts treated as heraldic devices, the images placed centrally on the canvas and painted in glowing colours with immaculate precision and a high degree of finish. About 1962 his painting took on an even greater richness and gloss, when he began to use sprayed cellulose paint on hardboard and later actually on sheets of metal, thus getting even closer to the technique and medium of his sources. Some of these metal sheet works are artfully crumpled, thus adding a suggestion of accident and death to the glamorous perfection of the painted emblem.

The other major Los Angeles Pop artist is Edward Ruscha (pronounced, the artist insists, as Ruschay). He began using Pop imagery (packaging) in 1960 in paintings like Box Smashed Flat, where presentation of commercial imagery and what looks like Edwardian commercial lettering is still combined with a painterly style. But his painting quickly took on an almost inhuman exquisiteness, precision and perfection of finish, as in Noise... of 1963.

Like Indiana, Ruscha is fascinated by words, and these have always formed the principal subject matter of his paintings and graphics. In some works the words appear in isolation floating against backgrounds of beautifully graded colour that give a feeling of infinite coloured space. Sometimes associated images are introduced, such as the cocktail olive in Sin, and somtimes the word is given a specific context, as with the company names (e.g. 'Standard') for which the architecture becomes a setting in Ruscha's garage paintings (Standard Station, Amanllo, Texas). One lithograph, where the word Hollywood streams unforgettably out of the sunset in the steep zooming perspective and giant lettering of wide-screen title sequences, exemplifies the manner in which Ruscha depicts his words in such a way that their meaning is conveyed pictorially as well as verbally.


Edward Ruscha. Standard Station, Amanllo, Texas

 

Garages in themselves are one of Ruscha's most important motifs after words. They first appear in his work in 1962, not in painting or graphic work, but in a book: Twenty-six Gasoline Stations, consisting of 26 absolutely deadpan, factual, non-arty photographs of Western garages. The attitude behind these photographs comes very close to that of the New York Pop artists, and especially Warhol: the acceptance of aspects of the world which no one had considered in an art context before. Twenty-six Gasoline Stations was followed by Various Small Fires (1964), Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965), On the Sunset Strip (1966, a twenty-seven foot fold-out continuous photograph of every building on the Strip), Thirty-four Parking Lots (1967) and others. As with Warhol's work, the nature of the motif eventually directs the spectator's attention to the manner of its presentation. Ruscha's books are beautiful visual objects, models of cool elegance and immaculate typography, finely printed in limited editions at the artist's expense, although there is little of the connoisseur in his attitude towards them; asked once about the expense of production he replied: 'It's almost worth the money to have the thrill of seeing 400 exactly identical books stocked in front of you.' In the end it seems certain that these will be his most significant contribution to Pop art.

In North California, Pop art was similarly dominated by two major artists, who, like Bengston and Ruscha, have a certain amount in common both in their technique and in the way they handle their imagery.

Wayne Thiebaud employs thick, luscious and brilliantly hued paint to depict, as he says, 'Things which I feel have been overlooked. Maybe a lollypop tree has not seemed like a thing worth painting because of its banal references.' Thiebaud's subject matter consists mainly but not exclusively of cakes, sweets, pies, ice-creams and similar goodies which he presents in the usual deadpan, frontal or repetitive way of Pop art. But the way he actually paints these items is unique to Thiebaud: he uses the paint not to depict them illusionistically but to recreate their textures and colours. Thiebaud has explained that his interest is in 'what happens when the relationship between paint and subject matter comes as close as I can get it - white, gooey, shiny, sticky oil paint spread out on top of a painted cake to 'become' frosting. It is playing with reality - making an illusion which grows out of an exploration of the propensities of materials.' Refrigerator Pies (1962) is typical of Thiebaud's work; and if in the end his paintings, like this one, have a highly synthetic as well as edible look about them it is because his source material itself is largely synthetic.


Wayne Thiebaud. Refrigerator Pies

Mel Ramos uses similarly luscious paint but to rather different ends: he does not imitate textures like Wayne Thiebaud, nor does he interest himself in the same type of subject matter. After an early phase about 1962-63 of painting comic-book heroes and heroines, Ramos quickly found his own specific and personal iconography of nude pin-up girls. These young ladies are depicted by Ramos in often quite explicit sexual situations with either appropriately phallic forms of packaging, consumer goods or food like Coca-Cola bottles, cigarettes (in Philip Morris), a corn cob (in Miss Corn Flakes) or, particularly in later works, with various animals, either symbolically phallic such as weasels and pelicans, traditionally highly-sexed like monkeys, or simply representative of brute maleness - gorillas for example. Ode to Ang plays a favourite Pop game with high art (the source is Ingres); and in depictions of girls with pumas and other big cats he has extended his range of erotic feeling by introducing an element of refined, almost decadent perversion. Ramos's art is probably intended as mild parody of the obvious Freudianism of Madison Avenue, but there is no doubt that it is also extremely enjoyable for what it is: light hearted, witty, glamorous, very high-quality pornography.


Mel Ramos. Ode to Ang


Mel Ramos. Philip Morris

 

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