“Popism wasn’t about what people did – it was about people.”

What is Pop Art about according to Andy Warhol?

It definitely wasn’t contained within the narrow frames of Art. Instead, being the hybrid between commercial and traditional Art, it infiltrated and morphed into every media that was there to reach and entertain: music, fashion, television, advertisement boards and even neon road signs across American towns and cities. It was shallow, it was kitsch, but it was great at grabbing attention.

Contemporary take on Popism

Coca Cola can crushed (2015) Oil painting by Gennaro Santaniello

Coca Cola can crushed, 2015, Oil painting by Gennaro Santaniello

Marmite, 2015, Acrylic painting by Simon Fairless

Bana, collage by Jens-Ole Remmers

Motel, 2017, Photography (Original) by Dietmar Scherf

“Pop artists did images that anybody walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second – comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, Coke bottles – all the great modern things that the Abstract Expressionists tried so hard not to notice at all.”

At one point, Andy Warhol says he even considered giving up painting, and make only movies instead. Through his camera he offers us to take a furtive glance at the imperfections of the ‘perfect’ people we see on our screens, intuitively feeding our insatiable thirst for other people’s dramas and problems.

“When you were around them, you forgot you had problems of your own, you got so involved in theirs. They had dramas going right around the clock, and everybody loved to help them through it all. Their problems made them even more attractive.”

What was Pop Art influenced by?

Marilyn III, Screen printing, David Studwell

Looking at tomato soup cans, Brillo boxes, celebrity portraits and dollar signs, you need not guess hard where Andy Warhol looked for inspiration. His obsession with celebrity images and glitz and glamour started as a child. Often sick and bedridden, he’d spend a whole day cutting out celebrity magazines that his mother brought him.

Later at the beginning of the 60’s Andy moved to New York and worked as a commercial artist. An essential part of his creative process was to blast loud music as a way of concentration and keep himself attuned to what’s popular.  When he was on a road trip with his fellow experimental filmmakers, he remembers how he was ‘soaking in’ the vision of neon signs, ad-boards that lit the American landscape.

In fact, the artist was never shy to ask someone, straightforwardly, ‘What should I paint?’, ‘because Pop comes from the outside, and how is asking someone for ideas any different from looking for them in a magazine?’

“It was one of those evenings when I’d asked around ten or fifteen people for suggestions that finally one lady friend of mine asked me the right question: “Well, what do you love most?”. That’s how I started painting money.”

What’s the difference between Abstract Expressionists and Pop Artists?

They Decided to Rent a Wind Machine to Enhance Their Entrance, Painting by Kelly Puissegur

Abstract Expressionism and Pop are one of the brightest stars in the firmament of American art history. Yet their artists follow very different philosophy about making Art, being an artist, and on life in general. Some Abstract Expressionist (AE) artists, such as Bob Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, plainly didn’t like Andy Warhol for his ‘swish’ attitude, because he collected other people’s paintings and simply because he was a commercial artist.

In fact, Pop and Abstract Expressionist artists are two polarities in terms of character and temperament: Pop merged commercial art with traditional, AE’s held plainly against this, Pop liked cities – AE’s moved to suburbs as soon as they could afford to, Pop people loved parties – AE’s hung out in one bar, Pop were druggies – AE’s – alcoholics, Pop loved money – AE’s, well, they loved it too.

Warhol put it this way:

“The world of the Abstract Expressionists was very macho. The painters who used to hang around the Cedar bar on University Place were all hard-driving, two-fisted types who’d grab each other and say things like “I’ll knock your fucking teeth out” and “I’ll steal your girl”. The toughness was part of a tradition, it went with their agonized, anguished art. They were always exploding, having fist fights about their work and their love lives. In a way Jackson Pollock had to die the way he did, crashing his car up…

The art world sure was different in those days. I tried to imagine myself in a bar striding over to, say, Roy Lichtenstein and asking him to ‘step outside’ because I’d heard he’d insulted my soup cans. I mean, how corny. I am glad those slug-it-out routines had been retired – they weren’t my style, let alone my capability.” 

Finally, on Jackson Pollock

“I asked Larry Rivers about Jackson Pollock. “Pollock? Socially he was a real jerk,” Larry said. “Very unpleasant to be around. Very stupid. He was always at the Cedar on Tuesdays… and he always got completely drunk, and he made a point of behaving badly to everyone. He was a star painter all right, but that’s no reason to pretend he was a pleasant person. He would go over to a black person and say, ‘How do you like your skin colour?’ or he’d ask a homosexual, ‘Sucked any cocks lately?’ He’d walk over to me and make shooting-up gestures on his arm because he knew I was playing around with heroin then.”

More than anything, this book is about people that made Andy Warhol’s Pop 60’s: people from New York art scene, people who took part in his movies, the ones that hung out in the famous Factory, celebrities he rubbed shoulders with, friends and competitors, and his muse Edie Sedgwick. With all the stories and anecdotes about them, it reads like a celebrity gossip magazine, making Pop even more relatable to the celebrity-driven age we live in now.

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