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More pop artist masters and their work

Pushing deeper into the pop artist movement that continues to be as popular in contemporary society as it was when it happened, we look over the careers of five more of the modern art form’s most exciting and significant artists.

Tom Wesselmann, the cartoonist

Starting his art career sketching cartoons while he was in the military, he went on to study at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and began selling cartoon strips to magazines. At 25 he began to discover artists like Robert Motherwell and Willem de Kooning, going through a gradual process of realising his real calling lay in painting and modern art.

In 1961 his piece Great American Nude brought him to wider attention, with primary colours, montages of images from magazines, and patriotic motifs, all of which gradually increased the size of his canvasses until he found himself looking at billboards as a medium to work on. He began to exhibit at the galleries around New York’s East Village and was soon grouped and considered a pop artist. Wesselman argued he only used objects for their aesthetic value, not to critique consumer culture, and didn’t identify with pop. In the following decades he continually experimented with style, playing with new materials, sculptural elements, minimalism, negative space, shaped canvasses, and metalwork, working until his death from heart complications in 2004.

James Rosenquist, billboard artist

With a background in sign painting, Rosenquist was perhaps destined to become a pop artist over any other kind, he dived heavily into advertising and consumer culture in his artworks, using techniques learned from his commercial art career. Moving to New York from his hometown at 21, Rosenquist studied at the Art Students League, focusing on abstracts and large scale murals. Signwriting became a job after study which he gave up after a friend died falling from a billboard scaffold, and began to focus on creating modern art.

His style developed similarly to both Warhol and Lichtenstein, even though the three evolved and emerged independently of each other. All three though, delivered art through mass-media forms; Warhol the print, Lichtenstein the comic strip, and Rosenquist the billboard. Exhibitions and grouping with other pop artists soon brought Rosenquist’s artworks to wider attention, and he was soon recognised as one of the key talents in the development of pop art, and remained popular up until his death from illness in 2017.

Yoshitomo Nara, Japanese pop artist

Growing up on a diet of Western music, and studying in both Japan and Germany had a strong impact on Nara’s artistic style, which first emerged in the contemporary 1990s Japanese pop art movement. He has a distinct style, depicting simple, pastel coloured cartoony drawings of children and animals, but gives each of them something of a dark twist; a weapon like a knife in their hand, or a look of hatred in their eyes.

Rapidly building a cult following, Nara soon found himself combining original artworks and sculptures with commercial work creating album covers for bands like REM and Shonen Knife, as his work also moved into videos, books, and magazines. Now at a stage in his career where exhibitions are held around the world, and individual artworks sell for tens of millions of dollars, Yoshitomo Nara has firmly established himself as one of Asia’s most successful and important modern and contemporary pop artists.

Edward Ruscha, the typographer

An American artist working on paintings, prints, drawings, film, and photography, Ruscha is another member of the movement who started out drawing cartoons, which led him onto art school and eventually work as a layout artist for an LA advertising company. He became recognised as an artist in the 1960s through his association with the Ferus Gallery and Artforum magazine, developing a typographic style which would be linked to both pop art and the beat generation.

His photography was both documentary and landscape in style. “Every Building on the Sunset Strip” delivered exactly what it’s title promised, and was followed up with photos of all of Hollywood Boulevard. Still more work reflected the film world, with mountains looking like the Paramount logo and stylings of the 20th Century Fox logo. He played with unusual materials like fruit juices and axle grease, used special printing techniques to create graduated tones in art prints, and plays on maps of streets in San Francisco and LA. Dada, surrealism, abstract expressionism and conceptual art have all played parts in Ruscha’s incredibly diverse work.

Wayne Thiebaud, the Disney pop artist

A pop artist who never really identified as one, Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of everyday objects such as cakes and ice creams. His subjects are often depicted in exaggerated colours and with a distinctive use of shadows, but with quite a traditional and realist style that sets him somewhat apart from others in pop art. Originally training at Walt Disney Studios he went on to work as a cartoonist, designer, and teacher, gradually working on his own painted original artworks influenced by de Kooning, Rauschenberg, and Johns.

Emerging through New York exhbitions in the early 60s as pop art was on the rise, some suggest his early focus on everyday objects may have influenced the movement. At times in his career he experimented with detailed figure painting, prints, and hyper-realist work, but often returned to desserts, and kept working until his death last year.

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