Art History,  Movements and techniques

Pop Art Fundamentals: 5 Defining Works You Should Know

Pop Art is one of the most influential movements of modern art. The movement started at the end of the 1950s in Great Britain and the United States. The style of Pop Art was defined by bright colors, recognizable symbols like celebrity faces, and provocative imagery. Pop art integrated elements of popular culture, merging the mainstream with the traditionally niche world of modern art. For this reason, many within the art world rejected pop art when it first appeared on the scene.

In this article, Singulart breaks down the five defining Pop Art works of the 20th century. These pieces, and the artists who made them, turned the art world on its head. The paintings we’ll be looking at have inspired artists for decades. Let’s take a closer look at these influential pieces.

Odalisk, A Strange Pre Pop Art Sculpture by Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955/58. This abstract piece of Dada art would come to influence the spread of pop art in Britain and American during the 1950s.
Robert Rauschenberg, Odalisk, 1955/58.

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), known for his part in the Dada movement, is one of the most important precursor artists whose work would come to inspire the origins of Pop Art in the United States. His multi-media statue Odalisk combined oil painting, watercolor, pencil, pastel, paper, fabric, photographs, newspapers clippings, metal, glass, a single pillow and a stuffed rooster. The Dada movement rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of early 20th century capitalist society. Instead, artists expressed nonsense, irrationality, and anti-bourgeois sentiments in their work. Pop Art took flight in a response to these ideals.

Pop Art and Collage: Eduardo Paolozzi’s I was a Rich Man’s Plaything

Eduardo Paolozzi, I was a Rich Man's Plaything, 1947.
Eduardo Paolozzi, I was a Rich Man’s Plaything, 1947.

Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) is an early progenitor of the pop movement. His 1947 painting I was a Rich Man’s Plaything is considered the first definitive work of Pop Art. It is also the first painting to have used the word “pop” within its design. Made during the years immediately following WWII, the painting evokes the aesthetics of American propaganda juxtaposing them with symbols of American capitalism. The painting and the artist seemed to predict a less than joyful outlook on the future of the Western World in the wake of the war.

Pop Art’s Most Iconic: Turquoise Marilyn by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, Turquoise Marilyn, 1962. The silkscreen pop art painting was reproduced from a magazine still after the star's suicide.
Andy Warhol, Turquoise Marilyn, 1962. The silkscreen pop art painting was reproduced from a magazine still after the star’s suicide.

Turquoise Marilyn is undoubtedly one of the most widely-recognized artworks of all time. In suit, Andy Warhol (1928-1967) is wide-considered the foremost artist of the pop art movement. His iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, Monroe, and other celebrities explored (and defined) the new Americana of the 1950s and 60s. His work was meant to function as a critique of America’s fascination with celebrity and to push the boundaries of what could be considered ‘art’.


Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) by David Hockney

Pop Art by David, Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) , 1972.
David, Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) , 1972.

Although Hockney was painting swimming pools regularly as early as the 1960s, this 1972 painting is by far his most famous. The painting depicts  the painter Peter Schlesinger, Hockney’s former lover and muse, staring down at a pool at a swimming figure. The swimmer likely represents Schlesinger’s new lover.

Set in the South of France, the painting employs the bright colors of typical of the movement, as well as the comfortable setting of a bourgeois home, symbolizing the new wealth of American capitalism during the mid-century.

Comic Books and In The Car by Roy Lichtenstein

Pop Art by Roy Lichtenstein, In The Car, 1963.
Roy Lichtenstein, In The Car, 1963.

Next to Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein is likely the most-recognized artist of the Pop Art movement. Inspired by the conventional advertising aesthetics and the American comic book of the 1950s, Lichtenstein (1923-1997) made his Pop Art debut in 1961. His painting In The Car made in 1963 is one of his most famous works.

Lichtenstein’s comic-inspired paintings parodied American society. He is one of the first artists to have used comic book art outside of the comic book itself. Many of his critics debated whether or not his reproductions of famous comics should be considered art. The infamous painting disappeared in the attacks of September 11th in New York, only adding to its prestige.

Discover today’s best Pop Art artists on Singulart!

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