Tag Archives: Pop Art

Part 7: Larry Rivers (1923-2002)

When we were discussing Pauline Boty in Part 6 of the Doctor’s Dozen on the Serendipitous Compendium, I suggested that it was high time we travelled from London back across the Atlantic to the US to find out about another artist who is considered by many scholars to be the “Godfather” and “Grandfather” of Pop art: Larry Rivers.

Larry Rivers

Rivers was one of the first artists to really merge non-objective, non-narrative art with narrative and objective abstraction.

Parts of the Face: French Vocabulary Lesson 1961 Larry Rivers 1923-2002 Purchased 1962 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T00522

Born in the Bronx, Larry Rivers initiated his artistic career as a jazz saxophonist in 1940 and began painting in 1945, holding his first solo exhibition in New York in 1949. To fully understand where Rivers was coming from with his art, we need to consider a precursor of the Pop Art movement and one of the leading Abstract Expressionists: Willem de Kooning.

‘Woman I’ (1950-2), William de Kooning, MoMA

In contrast to other Abstract Expressionists, De Kooning stayed committed to a form of figuration but also absorbed in the specifics of the urban environment and the mass media and incorporated things like newsprint into his paint surfaces, or collage from magazine images. The hard-core American Pop artists were united in their admiration for De Kooning, and he was more or less alone of his generation in having any sympathy for the younger artists. Larry Rivers met De Kooning in 1948. Mixed in with this, for Rivers, was his interest in the work of French figurative artists such as Courbet, Matisse and Bonnard.

‘The Bathroom’ (1932), Pierre Bonnard, MoMA

To be deliberately provocative, he decided in 1953 to produce a painting of monumental proportions as an essay in the genre most despised at the time, the historic set-piece. He flew in the face of the whole modernist tradition and chose the most ridiculous and clichéd subject he could imagine – Washington Crossing the Delaware, something familiar to every American from the grandiose and much reproduced painting by Emanuel Leutze in the Met, NYC.

‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ (1851), Emanuel Leutze, Met

He stripped the subject of its pomp and heroism and imagined it on a more persuasively human level, concentrating on the frailty and hesitation of the figures making their way through a cold, inhospitable landscape, thus draining the loose and gestural brushwork of the Abstract Expressionists of its customary exaggerated masculine heroism.

‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ (1953), Larry Rivers, MoMA

River’s reimagining of Leutze’s painting was met with derision, but its audacity in introducing a banal subject with explicitly American connotations, encouraged many other painters by the beginning of 1960.

‘Europe I’ (1956), Minneapolis Institute of Art

Europe I (1956) was based on old snapshots and the stars-and-stripes were introduced in fragmented form in Berdie with the American Flag (1955),

‘Berdie with the American Flag’ (1955), The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MO

His treatment of a prototypical Pop subject in The Accident (1957) was conditioned by his taste for episodic fragments scattered across the surface like materialised memories,

‘The Accident’ (1957), Private Collection

In 1959 Rivers began to paint pictures explicitly based on existing material.

‘Cedar Bar Menu 1’ (1959), Estate of Larry Rivers

Cedar Bar Menu I is a loose improvisation on the bill of fare at the Cedar Bar Tavern, then the prime meeting-place of the New York art world and particularly the Abstract Expressionist circle.

So where does all this lead us? Well, I’m going to throw a bit of a curveball now by going back to an artist I mentioned in connection with Rivers: Pierre Bonnard.

Bonnard’s work was an enormous influence on Rivers  – look at this for example and compare it with ‘The Bathroom’ by Bonnard [above].

‘Studio Interior’ (1948), Larry Rivers, Collection of Gloria and Dan Stern, New York

 

Part 6: Pauline Boty (1938-1966)

Last time, in the Doctor’s Dozen segment of the Serendipitous Compendium radio show, John and I discussed the life and work of Eduardo Paolozzi, one of the founders of the British Pop art movement. In this week’s interview, I connected Paolozzi with Pauline Boty, who was also a founding member of the movement.

Boty was a key player in the frenetic Swinging London social scene that drew together painters, writers, artists, film-makers, musicians, leftwing political activists and poets.

Pauline Boty in 1963

Boty’s paintings and collages often demonstrated a joy in self-assured femininity and female sexuality, and expressed overt or implicit criticism of the “man’s world” in which she lived.

It’s A Man’s World I (1964)

During the late 1950s, Boty became friends with other emerging Pop artists, such as David Hockney, Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips and Peter Blake. As well as studying art, she sang, danced, and acted. Her paintings demonstrate her interest in drawing from both high and low popular culture sources.

Boty, Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Peter Phillips were featured in Ken Russell’s documentary film Pop Goes the Easel broadcast in 1962.  Her appearance marked the beginning of her brief acting career.

Pauline Boty in BBCTV’s ‘Pop Goes the Easel’

The popular press picked up on her glamorous actress persona, often undermining her legitimacy as an artist by referring to her physical charms. Scene ran a front-page article in November 1962 that included the following remarks: “Actresses often have tiny brains. Painters often have large beards. Imagine a brainy actress who is also a painter and also a blonde, and you have PAULINE BOTY.”

Bum (1966)

Next time, we’re crossing over the Atlantic taking us from 1960s London to the beginnings of American Pop art and the multi-talented artist, Larry Rivers.

 

Part 5: Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005)

In Part 3 of the Doctor’s Dozen, John and I discussed the artist Raoul Hausmann, a founding member and leading proponent of the Berlin Dada movement and one of the originator’s of the photomontage technique. This led to the subject of Part 4, Kurt Schwitters who also used photomontage, but developed this to create his famous Merz pictures. He also incorporated American comics into his collages, and as such is often considered to have been the forerunner of British Pop Art. Any consideration of this subject would be incomplete without attention being given to Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, a leading member of Britain’s post-war avant-garde and arguably the father of British Pop Art. So, Paolozzi is the subject of Part 5 of the Doctor’s Dozen.

Eduardo Paolozzi

Pop Art took its name, subject matter and inspiration from popular culture and the artists who developed it were interested in the commercial imagery of advertising and the media, which fuelled the post-war consumer boom. They drew not only their subject matter, but also their materials and techniques from the world of mass production.

Bunk (1952), Tate

Later in America, artists such as Roy Lichtenstein painted huge canvases whose imagery and painting technique imitated cheap comics. Andy Warhol famously chose objects such as Campbell’s soup cans and magazine images of Marilyn Monroe for his subjects, in order to show how the endless replication of images will turn soup cans and superstars into icons, but also into objects of disposable consumption.

‘Look Mickey’ (1961), Roy Lichtenstein, National Gallery of Art, Washington
‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ (1962), Andy Warhol, MoMA

British Pop Art had a different tone, reflecting the reality gap that existed between the glamour, affluence and optimism represented by the USA, and the rationing and social hardship experienced in post-war Britain. Paolozzi and his contemporaries parodied the aspirational consumer lifestyle served up in glossy magazines.

Paolozzi was a member of the Independent Group, a loose association of young artists who were interested in the impact of technology, mass production and popular culture on art. His seminal 1947 collage I was a Rich Man’s Plaything is considered the earliest standard bearer representing Pop Art.

‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything’ (1947) by Eduardo Paolozzi, Tate

In 1952 Paolozzi gave a hugely influential lecture entitled ‘Bunk’ where he demonstrated how people were daily bombarded by an unprecedented array of images. He showed a series of collages in rapid succession that he had created from advertisements, glossy magazines, science journals and comics. Much of material he used he had collected from American servicemen.

The collage ‘Real Gold’ [below] comes from the series shown in the ‘Bunk’ lecture. Paolozzi’s use of collage in the Bunk lecture reflected his interest in the photomontage techniques of Surrealist and Dada art. However, his lecture is often taken as the moment Pop Art in Britain was born.

‘Real Gold’ [from the Bunk! portfolio], (1972), Eduardo Paolozzi
Another British artist who is forever association with British Pop Art is Pauline Boty. For me, it is Boty’s paintings that came to epitomise the 1960s in ‘Swinging London’, so it is to this artist’s work we will turn for Part 6 of the Doctor’s Dozen.

‘The Only Blonde in the World’ (1963), Pauline Boty, Tate

 

Part 4: Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948)

From Raoul Hausmann, the Dada artist often credited as the founder of photomontage, we link to his friend and sometime colleague, Kurt Schwitters.  According to the memoirs of Raoul Hausmann,  Schwitters asked to join Berlin Dada either in late 1918 or early 1919.

Kurt Schwitters

Schwitters (1887-1948) was a German artist who  worked in several genres and media, including Dadaism, Constructivism, Surrealism, poetry, sound, painting, sculpture, graphic design, typography, and what came to be known as installation art.

Das Undbild (1919), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart

He is most famous for his collages, called Merz Pictures. Merz has been called ‘Psychological Collage’. Most of the works attempt to make coherent aesthetic sense of the world around Schwitters, using fragments of found objects. Whilst these works were usually collages incorporating found objects, such as bus tickets, old wire and fragments of newsprint, Merz also included artists’ periodicals, sculptures and sound poems. These fragments often make witty allusions to current events.

Reconstruction of the Merzbau

Alongside his collages, Schwitters also dramatically altered the interiors of a number of spaces throughout his life. The most famous was the Merzbau, the transformation of six (or possibly more) rooms of the family house in Hanover, Waldhausenstrasse 5. The artist fled Nazi Germany to Norway in early 1937.

Opened by Customs (1937–8), Tate

Following the Nazi invasion of Norway, Schwitters was amongst a number of German citizens who were interned by the Norwegian authorities at Vågan Folk High School in Kabelvåg on the Lofoten Islands, Following his release, Schwitters fled to Leith, Scotland with his son and daughter-in-law. He was moved between various internment camps in Scotland and England before arriving on 17 July 1940 in the Isle of Man.

Picture of Spatial Growths – Picture with Two Small Dogs
(1920–39), Tate

At least in the early days of the camp’s existence, there was a shortage of art supplies which meant that the internees had to be resourceful to obtain the materials they needed: they would mix brick dust with sardine oil for paint, dig up clay when out on walks for sculpture, and rip up the lino floors to make cuttings which they then pressed through the clothes mangle to make linocut prints. Schwitters’ Merz extension of this included making sculptures in porridge. Schwitters was finally released on 21 November 1941.

Red Wire Sculpture
(1944), Tate

After obtaining his freedom Schwitters moved to London, hoping to make good on the contacts that he had built up over his period of internment.

The Proposal (1942), Tate

Schwitters eventually moved to the Lake District permanently in June 1945. During his time in Ambleside, the artist created a sequence of proto-pop pictures, after the encouragement from a friend in America who sent him letters describing life in the emerging consumer society, wrapped in the pages of comics.

‘En Morn’ (1947) Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne

From these works, we can clearly see Schwitters as the pioneer of Pop Art, his work prefiguring the early work of many artists, including the prolific Eduardo Paolozzi, who will the subject of the next installment of the Doctor’s Dozen. Here’s a taster:

‘I was a Rich Man’s Plaything’ (1947) by Eduardo Paolozzi, Tate