British Pop Art: How it Started

Against a backdrop of post-war reconstruction and social change, a group of young artists, writers and architects met to pool their ideas at the Institute of contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Formed in 1951 and known as the International Group (IG), they introduced the world to a new kind of art that was stimlated by popular culture – films, comics, advertising, science-fiction and pop music were key inspirations.

Pop Art has started in England in late 50’s and grown in United States in early 60’s. Among the Pop Art forerunners are two unique models – prototypes of the modern artists: the French artist Marcel Duchamp and the German Kurt Schwitters. Duchamp’s work and his thoughts have altered the definition of the art and our way of understanding it. He was famous with his “ready-mades,” objects torn from their usual contexts and exhibited as art. Kurt Schwitters produced collages and assemblages that lay somewhere between painting and sculpture. The work of his art turned into an environment that was no longer something only to be looked at.

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Tottenham Court Road tube station tiles by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi

Pop stresses frontal presentation and flatness of unmodulated and unmixed color bound by hard edges. They suggest the depersonalized processes of mass production. Pop Art investigates in areas of popular taste and kitsch previously considered outside the limits of fine art. It was rejecting the attributes associated with art as an expression of personality. Works were close enough to reality and at the same time it was clear that they were no ready-mades but artificial re-creations of real things.

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Sir Peter Blake Cigarette Pack Prints

“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”, recalled art critic and IG member Lawrence Alloway.

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Collage by Richard Hamilton

The resulting “pop art” (Alloway indicated that in the early days the label was “a friendly way of saying mass media”) challenged tradition by introducing mass culture into debates around high culture. With a visual language that drew from the ephemera of our everyday world came a new way of presentation – photography was layered with carefully selected magazine scraps, fill-in oil paint and cut-out headlines to form textured collages.

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Pop art cushions

“You can’t preconceive the result,” notrd the renowned Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Nor indeed the effect their pop art philosophy would have on our lives.

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Fashion inspired by pop art

British Pop artists had optimistic point of view. They preferably dealt with various forms of direct action – assemblages and happenings rather than comics or AD. In Britain popular culture and technology was just the subject of the popular art.

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