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POP ART AND DESIGN – A Short Guide

POP ART AND DESIGN – A Short Guide

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Pop Art and Design have emerged in the fifties but remained relevant up to the present day. Product design influenced pop art, and pop art influenced product design. In the time of the post-war boom, mass production was everywhere, brightly colored commercials were staring at people from every corner, the fashion industry was picking up, pop music as we know it was on the rise and celebrity gossip was a thing. The dominant force in the art world was abstract expressionism which, although praised by serious art lovers, had certain problems to connect with the general audience. It was high time for popular culture and consumerism to make their way into art.

Stylish, colorful, humorous, unsettling- Pop Art is highly recognizable and visually appealing. The movement had its heyday in from the 1950s through the 1970s, but remains influential in both fine art and design trends today. Pop Art can be broadly defined as any art which depicts images and iconography culture and mass media out of its original context with the goal of holding a mirror up to the society which created it.

Pop art started with the New York artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg, all of whom drew on popular imagery and were actually part of an international phenomenon. Following the popularity of the Abstract Expressionists, Pop’s reintroduction of identifiable imagery (drawn from mass media and popular culture) was a major shift for the direction of modernism. The subject matter became far from traditional “high art” themes of morality, mythology, and classic history; rather, Pop artists celebrated commonplace objects and people of everyday life, in this way seeking to elevate popular culture to the level of fine art. Perhaps owing to the incorporation of commercial images, Pop art has become one of the most recognizable styles of modern art.

In the Car, Roy Lichtenstein
(1963)
Eduardo Paolozzi, Sack-o-sauce
(1948)
Tom Wesselmann – Still life 35
(via Lodown Magazine)

 

THE BACKSTORY

Pop Art got off to a stylish start in mid-1950s Britain, with artists like Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi creating refreshingly irreverent collages and paintings which featured consumer culture and mass media imagery. Hamilton gave the movement its name in a 1961 essay titled, “For the Best Art, Try Pop!” In it, the author claimed that twentieth century artists are both consumers of mass culture and contributors to it. The movement aimed to look critically at both postwar consumerism and the fine art world, and to perhaps bridge the gap between the two.

By the late 1950s, Pop Art had made its way to America, where it found a natural home in New York, the epicenter of American capitalism and fine art alike. Not long beforehand, the Abstract Expressionists had established the city’s reputation city’s international reputation. Pop Artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Claes Oldenburg made a radical departure by re-introducing figurative imagery. Specifically, they painted everyday imagery, such as products, packaging, tabloids, comic books, celebrities and advertisements. Often, they divorced the image from its original meaning by vastly enlarging it, repeating it or altering its colors. While Abstract Expressionists and their predecessors sought to tap the artist’s inner experience, Pop Artists focused deliberately on the outward appearances. The use of popular imagery can be seen as an attack on fine art elitism and a celebration of mass media and design. At other times, Pop Art can appear more critical of popular culture itself, revealing themes of sensationalism, greed, vanity and the ever-present promise of immediate gratification.

Coca-Cola 3 bottles, Andy Warhol (1962)

 

BREAKTHROUGH ARTIST: ANDY WARHOL

Andrew Warhola was born in 1928 in Pittsburgh to Slovakian immigrants, and from a young age loved drawing and Hollywood movies. His father died when he was 14, leaving his entire savings for his son’s education. Graduating with a bachelor’s in design, Andrew Wahola changed his last name to “Warhol” moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist. His illustrations for style magazines like “Glamour” made him one of the most successful designers of the 1950s. Having achieved commercial and critical success in the world of design, Warhol turned his attention to painting in the late 1950’s. He debuted his iconic Campbell’s soup can paintings in 1962 and created an immediate stir with his high-art aesthetic treatment of product design so omnipresent as to be invisible. Warhol employed silk screening, combining this technique with painting, to create multiple identical images of consumer goods. He also produced portraits of celebrities such as Elvis and Marilyn Monroe, using repetition and flat, unnatural colors to create a sense of heightened artificiality. His art sold for huge sums of money and Warhol became a celebrity himself, a role he embraced. Warhol’s 1960’s workspace, “The Factory” became a hotspot for rock stars, musicians and socialites, and the scene of some of the era’s most infamous parties. Throughout the 1960s, he nurtured and collaborated with emerging artists, including The Velvet Underground and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and experimented in film and photography. He died in 1968 following complications after a gall bladder surgery. Warhol’s paintings, which both satirized and celebrated fame and consumer culture, remain some of the most emblematic images of America in the 1960s.

“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.” –Andy Warhol

 

PROFILE IN STYLE: ARTIFICIAL COLOR

In traditional painting, color is used in service of realism, atmosphere or emotional effect. None of these artistic objectives are important in Pop Art. On the contrary, they used color to create a sense of artificiality. This frequently meant emulating the look of mass-produced goods, such as reproducing and even exaggerating the bright, uniform colors of processed foods and synthetic fabrics. In other cases, artists re-created the look of printed media, such as advertisements and packaging. One obvious example is the work of Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), which reproduced the look of printed material, particularly comic book panels, on a grand scale. Lichtenstein not only imitated the flat colors of the mass media illustration, but sometimes actually painted the halftone dots of color which make up colors in the commercial printing process. Later artists like David Hockney (1937-) used bright, flat color to evoke the idealized landscapes of American travel brochures and postcards.

Marilyn Monroe, Andy Warhol (1967)

 

PROFILE IN STYLE: REPETITION

Pop artists created in response to the ready-made products of culture, from TV dinners and canned soup, to Hollywood ideals of masculinity and femininity, to idealized homes, cars and landscapes. Because such items were made to be distributed and consumed on a grand scale, they were numerous and uniform. Pop artists, most notably Andy Warhol, drew attention to the hypnotic sameness of such products by repeating images of them over and over in identical form. One way he achieved this was to use silkscreens to print many copies of the same image, and this technique was later adopted by Lichtenstein as well. In his famous celebrity portraits, Warhol sometimes altered the color of each silkscreen to create a semblance of variety within a framework of sameness, as in assorted flavors of the same product.

Modern concert poster in pop art style

 

POP ART IN DESIGN TODAY

Pop Art was a fine art movement celebrating and criticizing the commercial arts. Today, this fine art movement has itself been absorbed into the world of design and commercial aesthetics. The all-American fantasy of affluence and abundance that dominated in the 50s and 60s is powerfully ironic yet appealing. With a nod and a wink, modern designers make use of this celebration of materialism in contemporary packaging, branding, fashion and graphic design. Instead of playing on consumers’ anxieties and desires, Pop Art-based design invites the viewer to participate in a shared in-joke. Many such designs, for instance, make visual reference to kitsch or popular culture.

The aesthetics of Pop Art-inspired design are all about bright, bold, fun and user-friendly looks. Design in this style features saturated colors, heavy outlines and bold typography, all of which are eye-catching and visually appealing. Pop Art-based design sets a mood of high energy, fun and style.

Some product, fashion or web designs even make direct reference to famous works of Pop Art or the styles of famous Pop artists, featuring art made or inspired by Warhol or Lichtenstein. Other designers look to the earliest works of Pop Art, collaged from glossy magazines, and create a found-image look that creates surprise and humor. With its playful attitude and eye-candy looks, Pop Art today is right at home in its own source material- popular design.

“I see no reason why the artistic world can’t absolutely merge with Madison Avenue. Pop art is a move in that direction. Why can’t we have advertisements with beautiful words and beautiful images??” -William S. Burroughs

A photo easily transforms into a comic-book, Pop Art style

 

COMMERCIAL GRAPHIC DESIGN AND ITS INFLUENCE ON POP ART AESTHETICS

The predecessor of pop art was neo-dadaism, that earlier in the fifties started re-appropriating found objects and mass media. And while neo-dada was (much like original dadaism) focused on deconstruction (leaving us, for example, with unique junk sculptures and assemblages, abstract dance and immersive installations), pop artists embraced the mass production, making it both an inspiration and a crucial way of achieving the finished works of art. Many of the leading pop artists started as designers in advertising , so they were able to utilize modern screen printing techniques to create their work and reproduce it a number of times. Thick outlines and strong color palettes often limited to red, blue and yellow, the characteristics of the commercial printing at the time, became the trademark of the genre. In order to get the audience to respond on an experiential level, the artists re-appropriated the visual language of their daily lives – the comic book aesthetics of Roy Lichtenstein, with the Ben-Day dots heavily utilized in pulp comic books to create shades and secondary colors, is a good example: the look makes it instantly relatable to a common man. The industrial production process, stylization, quotation, borrowing, and re-appropriation are the main techniques of pop art. Together, they created a distinctive visual language and an ideology followed by a large number of pop artists.


Jasper Johns – 3 flags, 1958 (via Artchive)

 

BRITISH TERM FOR AMERICAN ART

The term Pop Art first appeared in the United Kingdom in the mid-50’s. But, although the British pop art is older, it was actually inspired by the American popular culture viewed from a distance! In the United States, pop art appeared in the late fifties and it was more aggressive since it was created on the very source of the American popular culture. The pop artists in the States wanted their art to be more inclusive, reflecting the life in contemporary America. Some of them were called the new realists in the first couple of years – because, why else would you paint or sculpt common objects? The pop art movement quickly conquered America and the world. In France, though, it did exist under the umbrella term of “new realism”, alongside several other disciplines. The French frowned upon American popular culture and couldn’t forgive America for becoming more important than France in the world of contemporary art.


Andy Warhol – Marilyn Dyptych, 1962 (via masterofquills)

 

POP ART: THE ART FOR THE MASSES

Pop art was criticized because of its “low” subject matter and the seemingly uncritical treatment of it. It was the art for the masses, inspired by masses or the ideas of fame and mass production. Some of the artists were proper stars as well, and Andy Warhol was fully integrated in the society he critiqued. Pop art was able to spark the dialogue, as well. It used repetition and reproduction to address the omnipresent mass production. Pop art’s apparent visual ambivalence towards the subjects was a reaction to the ambivalence of the public towards modern-day celebrities. Pop art sculpture employed mass produced objects or used them as inspiration – it depicted everyday objects, sometimes banal, in a recognizable fashion: often oversized or made of unlikely materials.


George Nelson – Marshmallow, Sofa, 1956 (via Domusweb)

 

THE INFLUENCE OF POP ART ON DESIGN

Pop art and design were intertwined from the beginning. Since the brightly colored visuals of pop art originated in commercial graphics, it was a matter of time until its aesthetics started to influence other design areas. The pop artists often chose industrially produced goods as the subjects of their work, at the same time influencing designers to create completely new objects. Pop art was treating art as a business – so both the artists and the designers influenced by them wanted to create something appealing and commercially successful. Pop art furniture, emerging in the sixties, relied on the same set of bright colors, unusual designs, sturdy geometrical shapes, and… plastic! Because plastic screams consumerism, while at the same time being the material of the future. It doesn’t get more pop than that, does it? The fashion industry also didn’t take long to merge with pop art. Today, we can find its traces in many different art forms: contemporary product and package designs, decorative elements and even photography.


Jeff Koons – Balloon Dog (via Flickr)

 

NEO-POP ART: IS IT JUST POP?

The interest in pop art declined during the seventies but re-emerged in the 1980s. The revised pop art is often called the neo-pop art, although it’s probably best to think of it as a natural evolution of the genre. The movement never ceased to exist and its core ideas were never changed. At that time, a new generation of pop artists, born in the fifties, started creating art relying on the visual code and ideas of its predecessors. Jeff Koons‘ sculptures are perfect examples of pop art. Japanese artist Takashi Murakami blends anime and manga influences in brightly colored, commercially appealing, pieces of fine art.


Claes Oldenburg – Spoonbridge and Cherry (via Flickr)

 

THE VISUAL CODES OF POP ART AND DESIGN TODAY: A NEVER ENDING STORY

The visual code of pop art, although based upon commercial printing techniques in the fifties, still lives on. Its clear lines, sharp and clear representations of symbols and objects and strong colors can nowadays be found in many areas of industrial and graphic design. Is it just nostalgia? Probably not. Everybody loves design that pops. The abundance social networks has redefined being famous. The visual culture of today cannot be imagined without thousands and thousands of photos not much unlike Warhol’s Polaroids of the rich and famous that served as a base for some of his works. We can never outgrow pop art because it will surely outlive us.


Bocca Sofa by Studio 65 via flavorwire.com

 

POP ART FURNITURE

Pop Art influenced virtually every form of art, so why should furniture be excluded? Interior design lovers can agree that pop art furniture brings that special whiff of fresh air and energy into the room and spark a conversation or two. The basics of Pop Art are the use of “irrelevant” materials, a great visual effect, and the unconventional personality of the artworks created in this manner. As for the Pop Art furniture, the limits do not exist. It is witty, geometric, brightly colored, and – made with cheap materials. The furniture made in pop art style is on its own a work of art, with the bright and clashing color scheme, the youthful and vibrant décor style, creating a unique dynamic in the room, adding the perky energy and liveliness to the space it inhabits. The attitude that pop art furniture takes is threefold: firstly, it addresses the contemporary trends and issues, secondly it presents the strong, yet unrestricted viewpoint when it comes to style, and thirdly, it appears to be short-lived in the terms of trendiness, but it nevertheless leaves a noteworthy impression on the world of design.

Ironic and humorous, the pop art furniture serves as sort of a transferable monument to the contemporary times. This means that, just like Pop Art itself, it follows the trends and the advertising materials of the time it is created in. The good example of a piece of pop art furniture is the Bocca sofa, or Marilyn sofa, created by Studio 65 back in 1972. The oversize red lips that serve as a sofa have become popular all over the world, selling for over $8000 today. The materials used for the production of this piece were cold-expanded polyurethane and elasticized fabric cover. What makes it so special and significant is the fact that it looks unreal, almost too cartoonish to be a piece of furniture, it is a piece that not only comforts your body but also tickles your mind as you slowly realize you are resting your back on the pair of bright red lips that could start talking any second. The fact that it is only produced in the signature red color makes this piece even more appealing.

Pop Art furniture simply “pops up” with its bold, strong, and vivid colors and minimalistic design. And let’s not forget the functionality! Roberto Sebastian’s Malitte lounge produced in 1965 is the perfect example of functionality and style blended together. The five pieces made out of polyurethane foam and wool serve as lounge chairs, and leg rests coming together in a perfect cube when assembled. The blobby looking green furniture is juxtaposed with the bright yellow centerpiece, making this jigsaw puzzle eye-catching and making you want to redecorate your whole house to fit these pieces inside.

Finally, pop art furniture continually discovers new materials that furniture manufacturers would never even consider using. In the 1960s the artists rebelled by embracing plastic, metallic fibers, and paper, resulting in one of the most popular (and most questionable) furniture styles: the inflatables. Young people found it particularly appealing, regardless of its low durability and low quality, because they could finally move around, not worrying about hiring the moving companies or having to suffer in their sleeping bags while traveling. The blow-up furniture was a slap in the face of the high-end furniture designers, and a critique of the money-oriented America in the post-World War II times. The short lives of these pieces did not stop them from earning the status of the works of art since they raised a question – does art have to be eternal to be considered art?

 

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Credits: Merrill, Web Design Degree Center, Widewalls, Jan ARSEN who is journalist based in Amsterdam.

2 Responses

  1. aleyna
    | Reply

    Hello there, I discovered this post by the use of Google and it is GREAT! I’ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.

  2. Robin Jameson
    | Reply

    George Nelson was a genius. One of the most influential industrial designers ever. Nice article, thank you!

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