British Pop art
Challenging mainstream art and celebrating popular culture.
Pop Art is often seen as a movement that began in the USA with such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.
In Britain, Pop art developed out of the ideas discussed by the Independent Group which first met in 1952. Leading artists in the movement included Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi. The group also included the critics Lawrence Alloway and Rayner Banham, and the architect Colin St John Wilson (who would later go on to design Pallant House Gallery’s contemporary wing in the early 2000s).
The Independent Group challenged the mainstream art world, believing that it was too elitist. They wanted to make art that was more inclusive of popular culture. Their artworks used source materials from pop culture, including advertising, car design, science fiction comics, movies and scientific books.
In 1956 the Independent Group held its ground-breaking exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’. at the Whitechapel Gallery in London. The critic Lawrence Alloway described their intentions: “We felt none of the dislike of commercial culture standard among most intellectuals, but accepted it as fact, discussed it in detail, and consumed it enthusiastically”.
In 1957 Richard Hamilton listed the source material for his art, a list which has become famous as a definition of what was to become Pop Art:
Popular (designed for a mass audience); Transient (short-term solution); Expendable (easily forgotten); Low cost; Mass produced; Young (aimed at Youth); Witty; Sexy; Gimmicky; Glamorous; Big Business.
The artworks produced by the Independent Group were self-aware, even cynical investigations into pop culture. Meanwhile, Peter Blake created artworks that celebrated youth culture. His paintings were more innocent and straight-forward celebrations of comic books, posters and imagery drawn from funfairs, the circus and wrestling matches. The Beatles commissioned Blake to design the cover for their 1967 album ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ with fellow artist Jann Haworth. This album cover has now become an iconic image of British pop art.
Paolozzi and Hamilton were to become leading Pop artists alongside a younger generation who had emerged out of the art schools at the same time. The 1961 ‘Young Contemporaries’ exhibition showcased these younger artists from the Royal College of Art including Peter Phillips, Allen Jones, R.B. Kitaj, David Hockney, Derek Boshier and Patrick Caulfield.
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