Pop is probably the most important art movement since the end of the Second World War. Indeed, but for that cataclysmic event, it might never have come about . By the early 50s there could be no going back to way things used to be. Britain and the United States were the two main protagonists. However, there was a difference of approach and style.
It is generally acknowledged that the Independent Group founded in 1952 as an offshoot of the Institute of Contemporary Arts sowed the seeds of Pop Art in London. The IG itself was short lived, disbanding in 1955. Basically it was a talking shop for like-minded artists, writers and architects where such varied topics as anthropology, technology, science and popular culture were debated.
The inaugural meeting consisted of Eduardo Paolozzi projecting pages from his scrapbooks which contained a cornucopia of images culled from consumer magazines, pulp literature, sci-fi and sci-fact magazines and comic books, American by preference; Bunk as he called it. Exhibitions such as This Is Tomorrow were staged which included larger than “life size” cardboard cut outs of Robbie the Robot from the movie Forbidden Planet and of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch.
London had suffered terrible devastation at the hands of the Luftwaffe. Almost all commodities were still rationed. It is little wonder that these young British artists were inspired by what they perceived to be a land of plenty.
In 1957 Richard Hamilton famously defined Pop Art as ‘popular (designed for the mass audience), transient (short term solution), expendable (easily forgotten), low-cost, mass-produced, young (aimed at youth), witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, big business’. The term ‘Pop Art’ was first seen in print during the following year in an issue of Architectural Digest in which the English critic and founder member of the Independent Group, Lawrence Alloway described it as painting that celebrates post-war consumerism, worships the god of materialism and defies the psychology of Abstract Expressionism, the established art movement in New York at that time, many of its exponents being European by birth having fled the Nazis.
To the small core of the young home grown artists who had gathered there from all parts of the United States this non-representational art seemed elitist, pretentious and irrelevant. They wanted to introduce elements of the real world and real-life experiences into their work that conveyed the excitement of living in the city that never sleeps.
In the early 60s Pop realized its fullest potential in America. The ostentatious had been replaced with the everyday. Advertising and the media were favourite subjects for Pop Art’s celebration of mass-consumerism. The Independent Group may have dreamt an American Dream but their transatlantic counterparts could actually live it and interpret it in Todd-ao using a Technicolor palette. Many saw Pop as vulgar, sensationalist and without merit but others liked it because as well as being an art that everybody could readily understand, it brought all elements of art and life to one level.
Not only was Pop Art a new type of art but it was made by a new type of artist. The welfare state was founded in Britain after the Second World War. This meant that free education up to the highest level based only on an individual’s talent rather than wealth was available to all. The so-called Second Wave of Pop artists, which included artists such as David Hockney and Allen Jones were the product of this change in society.