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Book Review
‘Pop Art’ by Bradford Collins
Prints of celebrities by Andy Warhol, his sculptures of everyday objects, Richard Hamilton's captivating collages of appropriated ad imagery, comic strip-inspired large canvasses of artist Roy Lichtenstein are examples of Pop art, considered an important development of the mid 20th century. The then-pervasive Abstract Expressionist in New York filled canvasses with vigorously applied paint in an effort to collectively represent inner emotion, whereas Warhol et al prominently employed detailed sculptural techniques, photography, and photomontage to comment on the consumer-led lifestyle around them and also elitism as perceived by them in the domain of art.

A comprehensive book ‘Pop Art’ (Publisher: Phaidon; Paperback; Pages: 448; 250 color illustrations) by Bradford R. Collins provides an overview of some the most important milestones of the significant movement, and explains the background behind the development of Pop art, adding an enhanced perspective to our understanding of Pop Art as well as its relevance today. The insightful volume places it within its proper cultural context, illustrated with artworks by Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and James Rosenquist amongst others.

In their woks, household items prominently featured as did celebrities represented as symbols of mass culture smartly packaged for the public consumption akin to a Brillo pad or a tin of soup. Even the national flag was scrutinized by Jasper Johns, who looked to paint easily recognizable subject matter that he could find. However, seen in a broader context, this tendency of Pop artists should never be construed as an utter lack of seriousness. They were biting in their criticism of consumerism, immense brand power, celebrity cult, and public fascination for them, issues as pertinent now as they ever in the past.

Pop art arose in the major art capitals of Europe and America in the 1960. It was quite revolutionary in its unabashed celebration of mass or popular culture. Artists like Seurat, Toulouse Stuart Davis, Willem De Kooning and Lautrec had been keen on infusing popular imagery in their practice, but they had skillfully transformed their common source material, letting their sources to be heard louder than their own art. Lichtenstein based his paintings on comic books. Rosenquist opted for billboards, Peter Blake drew inspiration from record albums and Warhol found it in film stars.

All of them celebrated their sources with subtle transformation into impressive art pieces. They kept both the stylistic devices and the subject of these sources, or let the source imagery become more apparent than their intended creative reworking. Apart from offering a historical overview, it explores relationship between Pop Art and popular culture from all angles, also discussing its precise interpretation as celebration or critique of consumerism, mass production and gripping contemporary graphic art; whether Pop is just another manifestation of popular culture or scathing subversive criticism of it.

The author of ‘Pop Art’, Bradford Collins, received his degree from Amherst College and completed his Ph.D (art history) from Yale. The art scholar associated with the University of South Carolina has been more recently writing on American art in the post World War II period, and more so Abstract Expressionism, as well as Pop art. Describing it an engaging survey of Pop art, right from its origins in the 1950s to its later incarnations, an accompanying note to the book elaborates: “Several unjustly neglected women artists are brought to the fore and the meaning of Pop’s revolution is examined through the decades, across Europe and the US. Crucial for the artworks explored, the source materials of consumer culture and popular entertainment are also illustrated and Collins shows how they were used by artists to make their works.

“The writer argues that although the focus of much Pop art was popular culture, some of the artists’ responses were critical, some complicit and some ambiguous. And Pop artists also dealt with an extraordinary range of other individual, artistic and historical issues – from sex, love and death to aesthetics, from the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War to feminism.” In essence, Pop Art‘’ is an engaging and elaborate survey of the Pop art movement, right from its origins in the 1950s to its most recent incarnations.

Apart from explanatory illustrations, it contains biographies, glossary, maps and chronology for further understanding of the subject to establish how pop art was looked upon as a mode, an art form than a movement in the strictest sense of it. Collins goes to show how its practitioners were not constrained by any shared values, as many of the previous movements. He terms Pop a watershed development in the evolution of modern art, representing the moment in it when several artists tended to acknowledge the fact that the media imagery belonging to mainstream capitalist culture, from comics to movies to advertising, had become, knowingly or unknowingly, the stuff of their creative consciousness.