The beginner's guide to pop art

Pop art print of the Rolling Stones tongue logo with blue background

You’ve likely seen or heard of pop art without knowing what it means or what pop art examples truly look like. If you’re wondering what pop art is and want to explore more about this art style, you’re in luck. We reveal the important facts about pop art, the different characteristics involved and the history behind the pop art movement, to help you become an expert in no time.

Simply read on to immerse yourself in the world of pop art, including retro pop art and all of the joys these styles bring.

What is pop art?

Four V&A inspired retro pop art prints framed on a blue wall

If you’re unfamiliar with this artistic style, you’ll be asking yourself “what is pop art?”. Pop art is a movement that emerged in the 1950s, both in the U.S. and the UK. The motivation behind the pop art movement was the idea that art can be taken from any material or source.

For instance, artists started portraying common, everyday subjects in their work, such as film posters, newspapers, comic strips and even soup cans. They also began using bright colours to highlight the subject matter in all of its brilliance. This might bring some art pieces to your mind now, even if you were unaware those were examples of pop art prints before.

This new style greatly contrasted its predecessor, abstract expressionism, and so it sent waves of shock amongst the art world. In fact, pop art was considered radical at the time since it subverted the norms of previous styles, with pop art artists taking inspiration from popular culture. Although that was the beauty of it; the pop art movement aimed to remove the existing hierarchy associated with art at the time.

Notable characteristics of pop art

Colourful yellow, blue and pink 'Make, Create, Sleep, Repeat' image

When trying to categorise a piece of pop art, there are major characteristics to look out for. These include:

  1. Humour

Many pieces of art produced by pop art artists touch on humour, satire, and irony to make a statement. This is typically to bring a lighter element to dark current events or subvert the norms of the standard status quo by humourising the subject matter.

  1. Colour

It would be hard to find a pop art print or illustration artwork that didn’t feature loud colourways, as a key component to creating artwork of this style. Bold and bright colours are what define pop art, with splashes of vibrant blue, red, and yellow popularly featuring in these prints. It brought a new lease of life and a sense of intrigue to the art world.

  1. Media references

Many artists produced artwork that used images from magazines and newspapers, playing with the snippets of news and turning them into bold designs. Iconic pop art examples included Peter Blake’s ‘On the Balcony’. Pop art artists like this one used media clippings to create innovative pieces of art which were telling of the time.

  1. Popular imagery

Pop art has the abbreviation of ‘popular’ in its title because this type of artwork was centred on popular culture and what was happening at the time. That’s why many artists chose to incorporate famous imagery into their work, which included iconic photos and pictures of celebrities. For example, this is why pop art artists like Andy Warhol famously used Marilyn Monroe as the subject of his work.

It's important to note that memorable brand logos and names, such as Coca Cola and Campbell’s Soup, were also the focus of many pop art pieces. You’ve likely come across these images before, without realising they are pop art!

Famous pop art artists

As a beginner in the pop art world, you will want to learn about the people who shaped this style of artwork to make it what it is today. In 1957, famous English artist Richard Hamilton noted in a letter that: "Pop art is: popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business."

His description perfectly details everything that pop art involved. This is unsurprising since his ‘Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?’ print is coined as one of the first pieces of pop art to sweep the nation.

Hamilton was one of the brilliant emerging pop art artists to make this style what it is today. As mentioned previously, Andy Warhol had a huge influence, as did David Hockney with his ‘A Bigger Splash’ piece alongside American artist, Keith Haring, who is best known for his colourful, graffiti-style depictions of spaceships and crawling babies.

Other notable pop art artists include:

  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • Takashi Murakami
  • Alex Katz
  • Robert Indiana
  • James Rosenquist.

    Learn more and display pop art examples on your walls

    Pop art print of the outline of a face with colourful scenery inside

    After discovering important facts about pop art and all that it entails, you might want to purchase some of these prints and display them in your home. Our V&A inspired retro pop art prints are perfect if you’re on the hunt for some lively prints, and our retro pop alphabet posters will work a treat alongside your other bedroom wall art pieces, adding an element of personalisation.

    Simply peruse our range and find the illustrations best suited to your tastes. In the meantime, ensure you browse through our blog to uncover insights on other art styles, including our helpful beginner’s guide to abstract art.