The pop art movement began in London during the 1950’s and thenquickly spread throughout nearly all of the industrialized world. Although theartists did have some overlapping styles, pop art focuses more on the subject andless on style, which was left up to each individual artist.
The main themes that isevident in all pop art revolves around modern social values. The style in whichthese values were portrayed varied depending on the culture and artist. CriticBarbara Rose claimed in her review of a Pop Art show that Pop Art, ” I wish todisagree with the assumption that pop art is an art style. It is not; these artistsare linked only through their subject matter, not through stylistic similarities. Thismakes it possible to talk of the iconography or attitudes of Pop art, but not of Popart as an art style, as one would speak of Baroque or Cubism.” (Bondo, 1998)In America, Pop Art used the images and techniques of mass media,advertising, and popular culture, often in an ironic way to play off the social issuesof popular culture. The art form developed rapidly once reaching the U.
S. NewYork City, often viewed as the epicenter of American popular culture, fostered thegrowth of many of the most highly regarded pop artists, including Warhol,Rosenquist, Segal and Lichtenstein. California, namely San Fransisco wasrecognized as the Pop Art capital of the west coast (Bourdon, 1989, 12)SubjectThe subject of Warhol’s work revolved around various American socialissues of the mid-century. As America exited from World War II and entered theBaby Boom era, the culture had become decidedly sanitized. Some of this couldbe attributed to the Cold War and fear of the “enemy”. The flight to suburbia,mass production, conservative family values, and development of new socialstandards also played a major role in this “Leave-it-to-Beavering” of the nation.
This was also the period of time where admass culture had its beginnings. Warhol played off the irony of these issues in such works as Campbell’s SoupCans and his famous Brillo Boxes (Bourdon, 1989, 34)During the 1960’s, the nation began to see rapid changes. The spaceprogram was under way, the Vietnam war was in action, Kennedy was killed,racial equity became and issue and the “hippie” movement was at its peak;spreading its trademark ideals of free love, drugs and music. Although Warholcontinued his focus on the irony of admass culture, he began to branch out intonew territory. He began to print his Flowers series, which had a decidedlypsychedelic flavor to them, matching the flavor of the current social scene(Bourdon, 1989, 42)As the 70’s disco scene came to rise, Warhol’s work followed.
Warholhimself frequented many of New York City’s hottest, most glamorous nightclubs. Studio 54, famed for its exclusivity, was one of Warhol’s favorites. It is at thisperiod that Warhol became totally engulfed with creating works of other people,mostly celebrities. Ever since childhood, Warhol had been obsessed withcelebrity life and fame. Some of Warhol’s most famous works were of celebrities. Many were chic designers such as Halson, Diane von Fursenberg, Jean PaulGaultier and Yves Saint Laurent (Bourdon, 1989, 53) Death and disaster was also a subject that Warhol worked with, especiallyduring the early 60’s. These subjects contrasted somewhat with his others, forthey seemed to be far more gruesome and vulgar. However, it was said thatthese were not intentionally vulgar, but again a clip from popular culture.
Whenconfronted about the morbidity, Andy said “Every time you turn on the T.V. orradio, they say something like ‘4 million are going to die’. That started it.” Warholfrequently remarked about news broadcasts that projected deaths. For example,a news program may project that 50,000 people will die in alcohol relatedautomobile accidents.
To most, it seemed as if the media were relating this as awarning. To Warhol, this was a “goal to be met.” Also, Warhol was obsessedwith the way vulgarity looses its effect after view multiple times. This is thereason that he multiplied car accident pictures many times.
Many of his famousworks, such as Car Crashes, Race Riots, Electric Chair, Suicides and Tuna FishDisasters were gruesome in nature (Bourdon, 1989, 109)Another subject that seemed to permeate his work, especially his movieswas sex. This was not the sex that was seen in the pornography of the time, buta more erotic and advant garde style. Sometimes, only bared flesh was seen,and other times, it was full blown intercourse. Homoerotisism was another strongtheme in these movies. It wasn’t just man with man or woman with woman, thatwould be too simple.
Many of the scenes featured men as women, drag queensand asexuals. This only added to the peculiarity and erotisism. His four mostfamous movies revolved around sexual themes: Sleep, Blow Job, My Hustlerand Flesh (Bondo, 1998).
MediumWarhol’s art career began with commercial art, in where he createdillustrations using a blot-line technique. The blot technique is as follows: acompleted drawing is taped and hinged to a piece of Strathmore paper. Theoriginal would be inked and then blotted onto the Strathmore paper.
One may wonder, why blotted drawings instead of using the originals? Andy stated, “I like the style…..Well, it was just that I didn’t like the way I drew.
Iguess, we had to do an ink blot or something like that at college, and, then, Irealized you can do an ink blot and do that kind of look, and, then, it would lookprinted somehow.” (Bondo, 1998). This printed look is what made Warholfamous, adding to his admass culture themes. For a brief period, Warhol alsoused rubber stamps and stencils to achieve the machine made, printed look.It was in the early 60’s that Warhol began to use the silk-screen method. In retrospect, the rubber stamp method he was using to repeat images over andover (a Warhol trademark) suddenly seemed to homemade– he wantedsomething stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect. The silk-screeningmethod was done by taking a photograph and transferring it in glue to silk, andthen rolling ink across the silk so that the ink permeated only certain spots in thesilk.
This way, Warhol could achieve the same image, slightly different eachtime. The pictures were slightly faded and blurry, which resembled the way themedia dulls down a story each and every time it is told. Tiny but important detailsare lost (Bondo, 1998)Film and magazines were two other mediums used by Warhol.
His filmswere considered underground and low budget, with strong sexual overtones. They were produced for only a brief period in his career, and were many timesinitiated by friends and lovers. His magazine, however, would live on even after Warhol’s death. Interview was the name of the magazine that he co-produced with John Wilcock,then editor of an underground newspaper called Other Scenes. The magazinefeatured text and loosely edited interviews from cassette tapes.
Andy often saidthat he started the magazine to get free tickets to all the premieres. Themagazine quickly turned into a monthly review of popular culture, includingmoviestars, fashion, art, music, television, gossip and celebrity nightlife–especially the notorious Studio 54 (Kakulani, New York Times Magazine, 1996).Another medium that Warhol used in the 70’s was known as Oxidationpaintings. These were large canvases created by coating them with copper paint. Warhol and his male friends would urinate on them while the paint was still damp.
The uric acid and copper sulfate combined to produce a green patine. The resultwas work that varied widely, from Pollock-like drip paintings to misty landscapes(Bourdon, 1989, 238). Organization & StyleOrganization plays an important role in defining Warhol’s work. His use ofcolor, treatment of masses and values and use of patterns are distinctly “Warhol”,separating it from that of the other Pop artists.
Color was key to much of Warhol’s work. In fact, it was so important, thatmany times Warhol would produce a work without color first. Then, he wouldobserve the work and think for days what the color should be used. Many times,color was applied by airbrush later to achieve an overlay effect. For the mostpart, his color schemes were bright. He also used a dot-matrix technique thatspread color out by means of a tiny dot pattern.
This was achieved through thesilk-screening process, and added to the mass produced look (Bondo, 1998).He used appropriated and serially repeated images to achieve hismachined look. This imagery arrests the eye, and speeds up the work creatinghis “admass” effect (Bourdon, 1989, 206)The shape of many of the images in his most popular works had arounded, streamlined look to them. The values did not posses lots of detaileither. This was to give them a plastic look.
He was quoted as saying that theseresembled club life, “plastic clothes, plastic jewelry, plastic surgery, plasticemotions.” (Kakulani, New York Times Magazine, 1996)The center of interest on a Warhol image is the image itself. The objectswere not meant to be “storytellers”, as did the more classic artworks. The Warhol image was intend to confront the audience with boredom as an issueitself by making the images superficial. Usually, the objects were surrounded withspace rather than pattern, emphasizing this center of interest idea (Bondo, 1998).Warhol used a detached style, in which little emotional involvement oridentification is created. By use of this method, a statement is made, but doesnot effect the audience on a personal level.
ConclusionAndy Warhol was one of the twentieth century’s greatest artists. And like manyartists, Warhol saw the world in a very different way. However, he wasmisunderstood as one who satirized American Pop culture because he did notagree with or fully understand it. Nothing could be more opposite of the truth,Warhol loved Pop culture since he was a child engrossed with the beautifulpeople that graced the magazine covers and movies. He became a Pop culturegenius, and through his work, he became a part of it as a social commentator andvisionary. And through his genius, he launched his work to become an icon ofAmericana.