Pop Art featured image
Pop Art featured image

Pop Art was never a cohesive movement. Instead, it inched its way up the international art scene, starting in the mid-1950s, as the invention of artists throughout Europe and the United States, artists who were often working independently and in isolation from each other.

As a result, these artists tended to develop their own distinctive ideas about the nature of Pop Art.  Here is a sampling of quotations from the leading practitioners of Pop Art:

Andy Warhol

Marilyn Monroe - Andy Warhol
Marilyn Monroe – Andy Warhol

“If I’d gone ahead and died 10 years ago, I’d probably be a cult figure today.  By 1960, when Pop Art first came out in New York, the art scene here had so much much going for it that even all the stiff European types had to finally admit we were part of world culture…”

“The Pop artist did images that anyone walking down Broadway could recognise in a split second – comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, Coke bottles – all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all.”

Roy Lichtenstein

Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997
Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997

Lichtenstein was asked in a 1963 interview “What is Pop Art?

“I don’t know – the use of commercial art as subject matter in painting, I suppose. It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one would hang it – everybody was hanging everything.  It was almost acceptable to hang a dripping paint rag, everyone was accustomed to this.  The one thing that everyone hated was commercial art; apparently, they didn’t hate that enough either.

Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg: "Free" Stamp at Cleveland City Hall Photographed by Steve Cummings
Claes Oldenburg: “Free” Stamp at Cleveland City Hall Photographed by Steve Cummings

In an article by Jan McDevitt for Crafts Magazine in the 1960s:

“I’ve never made the separation between, say, the museum and the hardware store.  I mean, I enjoy both of them, and I want to combine the two.

My intention is to make an everyday object that eludes definition.  I am happy if people smile at my work.  I mean, I’m very happy if they enjoy it because it can be enjoyed that way as a frustration of the expectations.”

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II, 1964
Robert Rauschenberg, Buffalo II, 1964

Robert Rauschenberg was quoted in the 1960s:

“The word ‘Pop’ is more Hollywoodian than historian.  Pop Art decontaminated our art of stream-of-consciousness.  We have a frontier country – the means have to be direct.”

Eduardo Paolozzi

Sir Eduardo Paolozzi RA Untitled, 1996
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi RA Untitled, 1996

In an interview published in 1959 Paolozzi said;

“I seek to stress all that is wonderful or ambiguous in the most ordinary objects that nobody stops to look at or admire.”

R.B. Kitaj

Kitaj, R. B., 1932-2007; The Architects
Kitaj, R. B., 1932-2007; The Architects

R.B. Kitaj in an exhibition catalogue for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in 1965, when asked about his relationship to Pop Art:

” I still balk at the word Pop . . . . Real Pop (not art) bores the hell out of me.  But often when High Camp insinuates itself into recent art, the results are engaging (given the quality, intrinsic and relative, of the art-piece at hand).”

George Segal

Segal's work in Amsterdam (1964)
Segal’s work in Amsterdam (1964)

George Segal, in excerpts from an unpublished interview with Marco Livingstone curator of Pop Art Exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, said:

“All of us, our entire generation, were looking for a new basis to deal with the real world.  No one was about to throw away the complexity of internal response or validity of abstract forms.  I think there was a new sense of reality, of synthesis, in the air.

“The definitions of Pop Art always sounded bright, cheerful, bouncy, witty, dispassionate, embracing the materialism of a prosperous America with its vulgarity and kitsch.  And that’s supposed to be a description of both Lichtenstein and Warhol, and I don’t think it’s anywhere near accurate in describing their work.”

Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana LOVE 1967
Robert Indiana LOVE 1967

Robert Indiana, during an interview for ART-news in November 1963, when asked to define Pop Art:

“Pop is everything art hasn’t been for the last two decades.  It is basically a U-turn back to representational visual communication, moving at a breakaway speed in several sharp late models.  Pop is a reenlistment in the world.  It is shuck the bomb.  It is the American Dream, optimistic, generous and naive.”

Is Pop death?

“Yes, death to smuggery and the Preconceived-Notion-of-What-Art-is-diehards.”

Is Pop easy?

“Yes, as opposed to one eminent critic’s dictum that great art must necessarily be difficult art.  Pop is Instant Art.  Its comprehension can be immediate as a crucifixion.”

Is Pop the new morality?

“Probably.  It is libertine, free and easy with the old forms, contemptuous of its elders’ rigid rules.”

Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg

Oldenburg is Store Days (1967):

“I am for an art that is politically-erotically mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum.

“I am for an art that grows up, not knowing its art at all, an art given the chance of having as starting point of zero.

” I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”

Jasper Johns

Three Flags (1958) by Jasper Johns
Three Flags (1958) by Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns, who is usually acknowledged as being, along with Rauschenberg, the great American grand-daddy of Pop, during an interview published in ARTnews in February 1964:

“I’m not a Pop artist! Once a term is set, everybody tries to relate to anybody they can to it because there are so few terms in the art world.  Labelling is a popular way of dealing with things.

Additional Reading

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Pop art smile – colour palette – Encyclopedia of Design

This palette is called pop-art smile. This fun piece of pop-art I sourced from my subscription to Adobe Stock.

The Hard Life by Jasper Morrison (book) – Encyclopedia of Design

How did so much beauty and imagination appear in daily rural life articles in Portugal? How did these objects’ shapes so deftly combine need and formal perfection? This book examines the impact that centuries of trial and error, individual craftsmanship, and an instinct to cut out the important with the tiniest of means had on artefacts that made life in a pre-industrial society both liveable and meaningful.

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