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Movements, Styles, and Tendencies British Pop Art

British Pop Art

British Pop Art Collage

Started: 1947

Ended: 1969

"Pop art is: Popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business."

Richard Hamilton Signature


Although the term Pop art is usually associated with the work of artists working in New York in the 1960s such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, the movement actually found its earliest voice in Britain a decade earlier. Still recovering from World War II, with a bankrupt population dependent on rations, the nation's artists looked west to the new consumerist paradise being advertised in the prospering United States. British Pop art rose out of a strong outsider's perspective as it looked both longingly and critically, yet with a healthy sense of irony, at the new visual imagery arising from this far off dream where everything from toasters to cars to beauty creams were placed on colorful pedestals in the glossy pages of magazines or touted on television in the hands of long legged beauty queens.

As early British Pop artists like Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake began to borrow heavily from this marketing language of post-War Americana, they initiated a significant movement away from the traditional parameters of what constituted art. This departure from tradition also extended to new techniques such as collage and commercial screen printing - breaking down previous orthodox distinctions between art and design, popular culture and high culture, and between mass production and individuality. The work also complemented, and often was intricately connected to, the energetic pop music scene, which originated around the same time in Britain marked by bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Key Ideas

British Pop artists aimed to shake up a stale art tradition in which works were customarily related to mythological, biblical, or emotional themes. Pop art became their vehicle of expressing this hunger for change. Although much of their inspiration was founded in the Dadaist language of creating irrational combinations of random images to provoke a reaction from the establishment of the day, British Pop artists found their original fodder in the brash, fun, and bold world of contemporary culture. Their new work thrived with a youthful energy, and by infusing their topics with humor, new images began to topple the historical parameters of art by representing the current mood.
Although British Pop art makes extensive use of the American advertising that came out of the post-World War II consumer boom, it remains distinct from American Pop art. This is due to the fact that while American artists were primarily inspired by what they saw and experienced within their own culture, early Pop art in Britain was fueled by American popular culture viewed from a distance. Later, as the swinging London musical and fashion scenes began to rise, British artists began incorporating the culture of their own country into their artistic lexicon as well.
By utilizing innovative advertising and design industry methods such as screen printing and collage-style graphic layouts, artists were able to construct works reminiscent of ads, album covers, pages of popular magazines, posters, catalogs, and other marketing-related propaganda. By creating relatable works that tweaked resonance within the common man, British Pop art successfully pierced the veil between high and low art making it accessible to all.
By making art that was essentially about art, embedded with a strong adverse reaction to the introspection and elitism that had dominated Abstract Expressionism, British Pop artists reintroduced the image as a structural device. Subject and object became the same thing, instantly recognizable and un-laden with abstraction. This neutrality and literalness provided artists with an opportunity to explore the visual and physical qualities of the medium while asking the viewer to reevaluate preconceived notions about what constitutes art.
British Pop Art Image


In 1947, Eduardo Paolozzi started work on a series of collages, which borrowed cutout imagery from American magazines. He spent time in Paris in the late 1940s, where he got to know members of the Surrealist group such as Alberto Giacometti and Jean Arp. Much of his work from this era was inspired by Dadaist and Surrealist works, and these collages in particular were influenced by artists such as Max Ernst. Paolozzi gathered magazines from American soldiers, who were stationed there on training programs after the Second World War, and became fascinated by the bold, colorful, and sexualized visual language employed by advertising designers. Britain and France were still feeling the bitter economic after-effects of the War and the American advertisements provided a degree of fantasy escapism from Europe's impoverished reality. Paolozzi's 1947 work, I was a rich man's plaything, is the first artwork to employ the word "pop," which is depicted bursting out of a gun in a cartoon-like white cloud. These compilations of popular imagery became the foundation for the Pop art movement.

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