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Art Movements in Art History - Introduction to Pop Art

Art Movements > Pop Art > New York Pop Artists

New York Pop Artists*

Andy Warhol (c 1928/1931-1987)

Andy Warhola was born in Pennsylvania. His parents were Czechoslovakian immigrants
whose material circumstances were quite humble ---- (his father was a construction worker
and later a coal miner). Warhol (he shortened his surname) graduated from the Carnegie
Institute of Technology, Pittsburgh, with a BFA in June 1949 and moved to New York the
following month. He shared an apartment with Philip Pearlstein and then with a group of
other people, and established himself as a freelance commercial artist. During the 1950s, he
published a number of books (eg Love is a Pink Cake, A is an Alphabet and Wild
Raspberries) which were humorous and ironic in tone. In 1956 he received the Thirty-fifth
Annual Art Directors Club Award for shoe advertisements he had produced for I Miller.

Warhol nurtured a desire to be accepted as a fine artist rather than a commercial artist.
He admired the works of Johns and Rauschenberg and in fact made several unsuccessful
attempts to make friends of them.

In 1960 he began to produce paintings based on comic-strips (eg Dick Tracy), consumer
items (eg Coca-Cola) and advertisements (eg Before and After). These early paintings
contain passages of hatched lines, drips of paint or loose brush marks - elements that evoke
a sense of subjective involvement rather than impersonality. This was progressively
replaced by a cool, hard-edged quality in his paintings of the subsequent two years. In
August 1962 he began to produce silkscreens on either canvas or paper. The silkscreen
served to increase a sense of detachment, and from then on it became his predominant
medium.

Ivan Karp of the Leo Castelli Gallery saw Warhol's works in 1961. He did not offer him a
show as the gallery had already taken on Roy Lichtenstein -- an artist perceived as having a
similar style. After some difficulty in finding a New York gallery, Warhol had his works
accepted by the Stable Gallery for an exhibition in the autumn of 1962.

In 1963 Warhol set up his studio on East 87th Street and in 1964 moved to East 47th
Street. This studio became known as the "Factory". In addition to employees such as Gerard
Malanga, it attracted a crowd of groupies and hangers-on, some of whom are identified and
described in Popism: the Warhol 60's.

Warhol began to make films in 1963 ---- movies set in real rather than fictional time,
most ofwhich featured people who frequented the Factory. The early films were silent, but
Warhol introduced sound in Harlot, a film shot in December 1964. He also became interested
himself in the production of pop music through his association in 1965 with the Velvet
Underground --- a group which became the Plastic Inevitable in 1966.

Warhol was the unfortunate victim of a shooting incident on the 3rd June, 1967. Valerie
Solanis, sole member of a society called SCUM (Society for Cutting up Men), fired a pistol at
Warhol while he was on the telephone in the Factory. Her motive, as explained to the police,
was the somewhat ambiguous statement: "He had too much control over my life." Warhol
was seriously injured and spent two months in hospital.

Warhol died in 1987 following a gall bladder operation.

Roy Lichtenstein (1923- )

Roy Lichtenstein attended the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University before being
drafted into the army in 1943. After his discharge in 1945 he completed a master's degree in
Fine Art. Between 1952 and 1956 he worked in Cleveland as a graphic and engineering
draughtsman and in 1957 was appointed Assistant Professor at New York State University,
Oswego. In 1960 he took up an Assistant Professorship at Rutgers University, New Jersey,
where he established a friendship with Allan Kaprow, a colleague.

Lichtenstein's works from his Cleveland days show a marked Picasso influence, as well
as an interest in indigenous American subject matter. In 1957, however, he began to
experiment with pure abstraction. The following year he introduced cartoon figures into the
otherwise abstract structure of a number of his paintings. In 1961 he produced his first Pop
work - Look Mickey - a hard-edged transcription of a cartoon found on the back of a
bubblegum wrapper. Shortly afterwards he began to use comic books, advertisements and
commercial illustrations as sources. A one-man exhibition of these Pop works was held at the
Leo Castelli Gallery between February and March in 1962.

Lichtenstein resigned from Rutgers University in 1964 and since then has devoted
himself full time to creative work. Since 1970 he has lived in Southampton, Long island, but
he spends the winter months in Manhattan. He exhibits widely, but Leo Castelli has
remained his art dealer since 1962.

Lichtenstein is best known for works derived from comic-strips, but it is important for
you to remember that these were produced only between 1961 and 1965. References to well-
known artworks and art styles - an interest characterising such early 1960s paintings as
Woman With Flowered Hat (1962) and Non-Objective I (1962) -- are the predominant
feature of his paintings of the 1970s and 1980s. Matisse's studio paintings, Cubism,
Futurism, Surrealism and German Expressionism are among the sources he has used in these
later works.

Lichtenstein is widely recognised first and foremost as a painter, but he has also
produced works in other media - in sculpture, ceramics, graphics and tapestry. Few if any
of his works are produced single-handed. An assistant carries out the basic painting, and
professional firms or individuals produce his sculptures, ceramics, tapestries and prints by
referring to designs supplied by the artist.

Tom Wesselmann (1931-)

Tom Wesselmann was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. His interest in art first showed when he was
drafted into the army to serve in Korea: he expressed his dislike and resentment at being
drafted in cartoons of army life. He obtained a degree in psychology from the University of
Cincinnati in 1956. At the same time he studied art at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. In 1956
he moved to New York and enrolled at Cooper Union.

In 1959, after graduation from Cooper Union, Wesselmann began working in collage.
Whilst his initial collages were primarily abstract, he soon replaced abstraction with
figuration and produced what he termed his "portrait collages". In 1961, with the
production of Great American Nude 1, he dramatically increased the scale of his works and
began to emphasise the erotic aspects of his female subjects. Great American Nude 1 is
generally designated as Wesselmann's first "Pop" work.

Henry Geldzahler met Wesselmann when he was participating in one of Claes
Oldenburg's Happenings, and introduced him to Alex Katz of the Tanager Gallery.
Wesselmann had his first one-man show at the Tanager Gallery at the end of 1961.
According to his remarks in Slim Stealingworth's Tom Wesselmann it appears
that Wesselmann first heard about the works of Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist at
the time of his show. In May 1962, his Great American Nude 2 was included in an
exhibition, "Recent Paintings USA -- The Figure", at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
In 1962, Richard Bellamy of the Green Gallery became his art dealer. When the Green
Gallery closed down in 1964, Wesselmann was taken on by the Sidney Janis Gallery. Sidney
Janis has remained Wesselmann's art dealer since his first exhibition at the Janis Gallery in
1966.

All Wesselmann's major works between 1959 and 1963 were in collage and/or
assemblage. During 1964 and 1965 he began experimenting with plastic and in 1965
produced a number of works using pure paint on canvas. Collage and assemblage elements
disappear from his works after 1965 (except for the notorious Bedroom TitBox of 1968-1970).
While Wesselmann is probably best known for his "Great American Nude" series
(consisting of 100 paintings produced between 1961 and 1971), he has produced other series
as well. Among them are his "Still Life" series (begun in 1962), "Bathtub" series (1963-
1964), "Landscape" series (1964-1965), "Smoker" series (begun in 1967) and "Bedroom
Painting" series (begun in 1967). While these other works do not necessarily include the
female nude, erotic subject matter tends to remain a predominant aspect of his art.

James Rosenquist (1933- )

James Rosenquist was born in North Dakota and grew up in Minnesota (except for the year
1943 when he and his family lived in Ohio). He studied art at the University of Minnesota in
1953 and 1954, and moved to New York in 1955 where he studied at the Art Students
League.

While still a student in Minnesota, Rosenquist worked as a billboard painter. In 1956,
after he left the Art Students League, he found employment as a chauffeur and houseboy in
Irvington, New York. He left this to take up a series of jobs, again as a hoarding and
signboard painter, but gave this up in 1960, having decided to devote himself full time to art.
Rosenquist's works of the late 1950s were influenced by Abstract Expressionism, but it
was a style that left him progressively more dissatisfied. He felt that Abstract Expressionism
had lost its dynamic impetus, had become stereotyped and mannered. In 1960, partly as a
reaction against Abstract Expressionism, he began to produce clearly figurative works.
Previously his own aspirations as an artist had seemed to conflict with the demands of
billboard painting ("serious" art was necessarily abstract while billboard art was of a
figurative nature). But he now began to use billboard techniques and motifs within the
context of easel painting. He began to divide his format into separate zones, depicting
diverse figurative elements in each area.

In 1961 Allen Stone, an art dealer, visited his studio. Shortly afterwards he was visited
by Ileana Sonnabend of the Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, and, slightly later, his work was seen
by Richard Bellamy, Ivan Karp and Henry Geldzahler. He was given his first one-man show
at Bellamy's Green Gallery in February 1962, and continued to be attached to that gallery
until it closed down in 1964. Thereafter he was taken on by the Leo Castelli Gallery.
According to Judith Goldman, Rosenquist described the 1960s as a
continuous party and the 1970s as a terrible hangover. Rosenquist went through a series
of trying events during the first years of the 1970s. In 1971 he was involved in an accident in
which he suffered a perforated lung and three broken ribs and in which his wife and son
were seriously injured. He was underinsured, and the accident left him deep in debt. The
following year he was arrested for protesting against the Vietnam War and his retrospective
exhibition at the Whitney Museum, which was badly organised, was given derogatory
reviews by a number of critics. These events led to his losing confidence in his art -
confidence that he appeared to regain only by the middle of the decade.

Rosenquist's best-known work is undoubtedly his F III, a painting that consists of 41
panels and was designed to cover all four walls of Castelli's Gallery in 77th Street where it
was originally exhibited. It is the artist's most overtly political work, its content functioning
as a protest against the Vietnam War and defence expenditure. F III depicts the fuselage of
the fighter plane in conjunction with diverse motifs such as an angel-food cake and a child
under a hairdryer. Whilst the entire work was purchased by Robert Skull, Rosenquist had
hoped that each of the panels would be sold separately; its buyers would thus have been
purchasing a symbolic piece of the aircraft which they had already paid for through taxation.
Rosenquist has lived in Florida since 1973.

Claes Oldenburg (1929- )

Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, but his family moved to the United States when he
was an infant. His father was a diplomat, so the family moved frequently, finally settling in
Chicago in 1936. Oldenburg enrolled at Yale College in 1946 where he participated in an
experimental Directed Studies programme, one that involved studies in both the sciences
and the humanities. In his last year at Yale he studied art history and drawing. In 1950
Oldenburg worked as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, and between 1952 and 1954
supported himself with a variety of jobs including illustrating and advertising work. Having
decided to devote his energies to art, he attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and
exhibited work in Chicago between 1953 and 1956. In June 1956 he moved to New York and
found a part-time job in the libraries of the Cooper Union Museum and Art School.

Oldenburg had been interested in theatre since his Yale College days, and it was this
interest that brought him into contact with innovative environmental and performance
artists in New York. While he initially concentrated on painting, new influences (such as that
of Allan Kaprow) provided him with the incentive to extend his range of media. His
exhibition at the Judson Gallery in mid-1959 revealed a move away from painting; it
included poetry and sculptures made from wood or newspaper -- these elements were
related to the gallery environment. In the same year he produced drawings on the theme of
The Street, and in 1961 produced The Store - an environment with plaster relief-like
sculptures constructed in a space on East 2nd Street which Oldenburg had initially rented as
a studio.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Oldenburg also devoted a good deal of his
attention to performance art; some of these performances were orchestrated in the context
of his environmental exhibitions, for example in conjunction with The Street and The
Store.

In Autumn 1962, Oldenburg produced his first "soft" sculptures - objects constructed
from vinyl. He used this medium extensively in the 1960s, extending his range of subject
matter from foodstuffs, such as hamburgers and icecreams, to hardware -- typewriters,
bathtubs, drum kits and so on.

Since 1964 he has been affiliated to the Sidney Janis Gallery.

<< Previous: Emergence of Pop Art in America


* Drawn from notes compiled by B. Schmahmann for the University of South Africa

 




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