Whilst the pop art movement tends to be most well known for the iconic work by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, it was much broader than this and developed first in England before exploding in the USA.
Although they were inspired by similar ideas, subject matter and shared ideals, there were distinct differences between American pop art and British pop art. Whilst the world of advertising and consumerism heavily influenced American pop art, British pop art almost took a more distant view. As if observing the burgeoning American pop culture, British pop art seemed to stand back, informed by it without being immersed in it.
American Pop Art: Pop Art made in America about America
In America, pop art was commentary on the American Dream, what is was like to be in America in the post-war 50s and 60s – Hollywood glamour, advertisements, stars of stage and screen, comic books, movies, entertainment, vibrant, burgeoning consumer driven industries that were part of the day-to-day lives of many Americans.
The purveyors of pop art in the USA claimed that elements, symbols and ideals of popular culture could and should command the same respect as that associated with traditional fine art. American pop art frequently employs mundane realities (such as giant oversized sculptures of everyday objects by Claes Oldenburg), references to popular culture and sarcasm.
Warhol’s Marilyn and Campbell’s soup cans became iconic emblems of pop art, and whilst well-loved and highly collectible today the mass serial reproduction of the image speaks to a deeper meaning of distaste for mass-produced consumer goods.
British Pop Art: Pop Art made in Britain about America
The pop art movement first appeared in England in the early 1950s (slightly before it made waves in the States) as an opposition to the traditional art movements of the time.
In 50s Britain, “The Independent Group” was an creative collective that gathered artists, painters, sculptors even architects, all of whom shared the same view on the academic approach to fine art. Widely thought of as a pre-cursor to pop art, the IG embraced the democratization of art that pop art brought, connecting with the masses and making art about “real life” for many people.
In 1951, Scottish artist and sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi created a series of collages called “Bunk”, the collages comprised cut outs and copies from magazines, comics and advertisements including consumer goods and logos. It is from this point, that the IG began to focus on the symbolism and language of American pop culture, and as the movement grew British Pop Art began to develop its own identity. Commentary on the American Dream and how American influences, brands and entertainment were reaching Britain’s shores, often incorporating a sense of parody or irony, informed by, but distanced from American Pop Art.
Further reading: What is Pop Art?