We're all familiar with the iconic images of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans and his multi-coloured screen prints of Marilyn Monroe, but I bet there are plenty of interesting and surprising facts about Pop Art that you didn't know.

Image by: Ian Burt

Originating in the UK in the 1950s, the Pop Art movement created a landmark cultural and revolutionary shift in the way art was created and perceived.  In contrast to abstract expressionism (which was rife with over-exaggeration), Pop Art got right to the point, with little or no ambiguity, in a direct and no-nonsense way. 

Its use of icons, celebrities, everyday images and concepts, and cartoon characters took the art world by storm and created an immediate artistic appeal that galvanised the very core of pre-conceived concepts of art. 

It was funky, fresh, and fun, and was a term that applied to painting, sculptures, assemblages and collages.     

And the fact its images remain as potent and alive as they were when they were originally launched onto an unsuspecting public is testament to its striking originality and enduring appeal.  

It’s a style that been imitated ad infinitum since, and has been used, borrowed and paid homage to in countless food and drink promotions, magazines, comics, TV programmes and films.  It was, in short, an artistic revolution.  Art would never be the same again.    

The facts:

  • Pop Art wasn’t called that when it was originally unleashed unto the London masses – instead, it was referred to as Propaganda Art.
  • As the name suggests, Pop Art was unquestionably one of the most popular artistic movements of the contemporary art scene.  Its prime modus operandi was to act as a counter movement, a rebellion against the pretentious and over-intense style of the Abstract Expressionists.  
  • Another of Pop Art’s intentions was to reflect the normality and reality of people’s everyday lives; hence its plundering of images and concepts from magazines, comics and television.
  • Pop Art was born in the UK in the mid 1950s but it didn’t take long to reach the United States – by the late 50s it was already there. Its intention was to challenge everything about perceived ideas of tradition, and that visual aspects of mass media and popular culture could be considered art.  
  • Pop Art is primarily so effective because it extracts an image or idea from its familiar context and isolates it and associates it with other elements.   
  • Pop Art coincided with the Swinging 60s of London and its music scene – and resulted in a very happy and productive union.  Peter Blake, for example, created cover art designs for Elvis Presley and The Beatles, and – like Andy Warhol
    incorporating Marilyn Monroe in his work - used actresses such as Brigitte Bardot. 
  • Andy Warhol’s motto was: “I think everybody should be a machine.” This was reflected in the way he created his prints, which looked as though they could have churned off a factory conveyor belt.  American Pop Art was less subjective and referential than its British counterpart, being more aggressive and emblematic.  
  • The Independent Group is widely regarded as the pre-cursor to the pop art movement. Collages created from found objects - such as mass media items and advertising of the American culture - by the group’s co-founder, Eduardo Paolozzi, made up art pieces he called Bunk! between 1947 and 1949.  The word ‘pop’ first appeared in one his collages entitled I Was A Rich Man’s Plaything, made in 1947, where a smoking gun was accompanied by the word ‘pop’.   
  • Pop Art’s finest and most well-known exponent, And Warhol, certainly predicted the future with his quote: “In the future, everybody will be famous for fifteen minutes.” If only he could see the frightening reality of what his prescient prognostication would ultimately bring. 
  • As well as its use of advertising, comics and mass media, Pop Art’s intention was to present the banal and the prosaic in unique and exciting ways, very often through the use of irony.
  • Pop artists primarily use the vivid colours red, blue and yellow in their works – the colours representing the references to popular culture as opposed to any inner feelings or emotions of what was being shown.  It’s a palette that also lent itself easily for mass reproduction, as was the case with Andy Warhol’s silkscreen paintings.
  • Roy Lichtenstein created his own unique Pop Art style inspired by the visual immediacy of comic books. Black outlines, bold colours, and Ben-Day dots were all recreated in the spirit of comic books that were printed in the 50s and 60s. 
  • Pop Art is immediately recognisable from its clear lines and representations of people, objects and symbols.  It took a more reverential approach towards mass culture and consumerism - as opposed to Dadaism, which was destructive, satirical and anarchic.