While Pop Art first emerged in Britain in the 1950s with artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton, it was figures such as Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and, most of all, Andy Warhol in America who really launched the movement to the forefront of the contemporary American art scene. Here we take a closer look at Warhol’s involvement with Pop Art and why he found its mediums and ideals so fascinating.

Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol - Screen print Print 1967

Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe

Why was Andy Warhol so interested in Pop Art?

While the major art movements of the first half of the 20th century put the spotlight on the artist as genius, creating one off canvases for an elite audience of critics and collectors, Pop Art sought to do away with the boundaries between so called ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture and bring art to the masses. Warhol was fascinated with the possibilities of commercialism and consumerism within art which made Pop, with its appropriation of advertising and mass production methods, something of a perfect ideology for him. Explaining what he found appealing about Pop Art Warhol said, “the Pop artists [made] images that anybody walking down Broadway could recognise in a split second … all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all.”

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Brillo by Andy Warhol - Screen Print 1970

Andy Warhol, Brillo

When did Andy Warhol begin making Pop Art?

In 1949 Warhol moved to New York from Pittsburgh and began working as a commercial illustrator. It was then that he began developing his unique style, studying advertisements and fashion trends to gauge how to attract consumers. In the late 50s he was introduced to the silk screen technique which would become the trademark of his work as a fine artist. These commercial beginnings are key to understanding Warhol’s love for consumer culture and the development of his art practice into a business. As the artist himself said, “buying is more American than thinking, and I’m as American as they come”.

Campbell's Soup II Vegetarian Vegetable by (F. & S. II.56) by Andy Warhol- Screen Print 1969

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup II Vegetarian Vegetable by (F. & S. II.56)

In the early 50s Warhol began exhibiting in galleries but perhaps his first Pop Art moment came when he showed a series of his Campbell’s Soup paintings – which in true Pop style depicted everyday consumer goods known to the average Joe – on grocery shelves at Irving Blum’s Ferus Gallery in the early 60s. Not everyone was amused however, and the art world elite went as far as to call him a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘killer of beauty’. It was not long after this that Warhol began making his screen print portraits which eventually cemented him as the king of Pop Art and placed him in the canon of painters who had previously snubbed him.

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4 Works Dollar Signs by Andy Warhol - Serigraph Print

Andy Warhol, 4 Works Dollar Signs

How does Andy Warhol’s art reflect the Pop Art movement?

From his use of the silk screen which had originally been developed for the printing of packaging and advertisements to his embrace of the Xerox machine later in his career, Warhol’s involvement with Pop is evident through his various choices of medium, however it is perhaps in his subject matter that his affiliation with the movement is most obvious. The Campbell’s Soup can marked a starting point for an obsession with everyday objects and brand names that were a familiar sight in everyday life. From here he made a series of Brillo Boxes and even went as far as to print a series of dollar signs on canvas – such was his fascination with consumerism and capitalism that he even named his studio ‘The Factory’. Rather than keeping art and commerce separate, as many of his predecessors and contemporaries preferred, Warhol embraced the business of making art, claiming that “Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” His obsession with celebrity, which saw him create hundreds of portraits of film stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor as well as John Wayne and Muhammad Ali,  also reflects the ideals of the Pop Art movement which borrowed regularly from Hollywood, pop music, sport and television to make work that would speak to all levels of society.

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Grace Kelly (F. & S. II. 305) by Andy Warhol - Screen Print 1984

Andy Warhol, Grace Kelly (F. & S. II. 305)

How did Warhol’s work develop within Pop Art?

Once Warhol had made his name with his silkscreen canvases he began to produce multiples of his paintings as prints. These were made in editions of up to 250, often in a number of different colour combinations, which means there are plenty to be found on the market today. New technologies such as photocopying brought a fresh dimension to Warhol’s work, along with the Polaroid camera which allowed him to take quick photographs of his subjects and transfer their image onto canvas with the speed of a commercial print shop. At the same time Warhol was experimenting with film and installation art which represented a shift away from Pop towards Conceptual art. This work was not as commercially viable however and for decades he continued to make his Pop Art prints – often on demand – to satisfy the appetite for his work which is still apparent today.

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