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About Pop Art

Pop Art was an art movement that emerged in Britain and America in the 1950s and flourished throughout the 1960s, becoming a global movement. Pop artists were inspired by popular culture and consumerism – including Hollywood movies, pop music, advertising and fashion.

Pop Art style is characterised by bright colours and bold compositions often influenced by advertising posters and graphic media.

What sparked Pop Art?

In the 1950s, young artists wanted to make art about things that were interesting and relevant to them, rather than the traditional subjects and themes they had been taught at art school or saw in museums.

Girls with Their Hero

Girls with Their Hero 1959

Peter Blake (b.1932)

Pallant House Gallery

They sought to get rid of the distinction between 'high art' (the 'serious' art in museums) and 'low art' (such as the art of comic books and advertising). They created a new visual language from the things they saw around them every day.

Scottish artist Eduardo Paolozzi made collages from magazines. English artist Peter Blake painted pop stars and wrestlers and used toys in his assemblage artworks.

David Ilienthal

David Ilienthal 1952

Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi (1924–2005)

British Council Collection

Kamikaze

Kamikaze 1965

Peter Blake (b.1932)

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

In America, Andy Warhol made artworks about celebrity culture and consumerism and Roy Lichtenstein used comic book imagery as inspiration. 

Hamburger

Hamburger 1985–1986

Andy Warhol (1928–1987)

National Galleries of Scotland

In the Car

In the Car 1963

Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997)

National Galleries of Scotland

Discussion activity: first impressions

Introduce Pop Art to your students using the carousel of paintings below.

Encourage students to share their initial responses and to discuss the imagery and formal elements they can see in the artworks. Use the discussion prompts if helpful.

Discussion prompts

  • What are your first impressions of Pop Art? What does it look like? Think of words to describe what you can see.
  • What things do you think Pop artists were inspired by?
  • Think about art you have studied or seen from earlier in the twentieth century or nineteenth century. Do you think the subjects Pop artists chose to paint were different from subjects earlier artists had focused on?
  • Why do you think Pop Artists were inspired by popular culture?
  • If you updated Pop Art for the 2020s, who and what would you include in your artwork?

Teacher notes

  • You might need to explain to students what is meant by popular culture.
  • It may also be helpful to remind students of some of the earlier art movements and artists they have studied or may have seen.
  • To find out more about the artworks in the carousel, click the images to view the artwork pages.

Who is Pauline Boty?

Pauline Boty (1938–1966) was one of the early pioneers of British Pop Art. As well as being an artist, Boty was a model and actress, appearing on stage and television and in films.

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Pauline Boty (1938–1966) 1964

Michael Ward (1929–2011)

National Portrait Gallery, London

Like other Pop artists, she used imagery from popular culture – but she used this to explore female desires and interests as well as to criticise how women are often seen and portrayed in the media.

Early work

Boty studied art at Wimbledon College of Art, where one of her teachers encouraged her to explore collage.

Untitled (Seascape with Boats and Island)

Untitled (Seascape with Boats and Island) c.1960

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Pallant House Gallery

She began to experiment with combining collage and painting, using found images from popular culture sources, such as magazines.

Boty went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London. She had hoped to study painting at the college, but the admission system was biased against women and she was advised to apply to the stained glass department instead.

Undeterred, she continued to paint in her student flat and had three paintings accepted for the prestigious Young Contemporaries national exhibition.

Top of the Pops!

At the Royal College, Pauline Boty met and became friends with emerging Pop artists David Hockney, Derek Boshier and Peter Blake.

In 1961 she was included in one of the first exhibitions of Pop Art in Britain along with Peter Blake. In 1962 she was featured in a documentary film about Pop Art called Pop Goes the Easel which catapulted her into the public eye.

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pauline Boty (@pauline__boty)

Like her male counterparts, Boty developed a visual language that referenced popular culture and celebrity icons.

Her depictions of women such as Marilyn Monroe reflect their sense of self and their sexuality. This was very different to the approach taken by many of the male Pop artists, who often reduced images of women such as Monroe to bland celebrities or objects for the male gaze. Boty also often painted her male idols – such as French film star Jean-Paul Belmondo – as sex symbols, overturning the expected female pin-up subject.

In her paired paintings, It's a Man's World (1964) she criticised stereotypical representations of women in the media. She painted men (including politicians, and scientists) alongside impressive architectural structures and juxtaposed this with a painting of women (all naked) depicted against a backdrop of a tropical beach.

Pauline Boty had her first solo show in 1963, in London. She exhibited paintings that featured celebrities, such as The Only Blonde in the World (1963) – a painting of Hollywood film star Marilyn Monroe.

The Only Blonde in the World

The Only Blonde in the World 1963

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Tate

Influence and legacy

Boty was a key figure in the British Pop Art movement, but after her death from cancer (at the tragically young age of 28) her work was largely forgotten. Perhaps because she was a woman and something of an 'It Girl' – a well-known figure in swinging sixties London – she wasn't taken as seriously as her male counterparts and was snubbed by mainstream art history.

It was only in the late 1990s that her work was rediscovered and her importance as a pioneer of Pop Art was recognised.

Discussion activity: 'The Only Blonde in the World'

Look at and discuss this painting with your students. Use the prompts below to get the discussion going, if helpful.

The Only Blonde in the World

The Only Blonde in the World 1963

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Tate

Discussion prompts

  • Describe the painting. What can you see?
  • What source material do you think Boty used for this painting? (Do you know who she has depicted in the painting?)
  • How has Pauline Boty combined more realistic imagery and abstraction and what is the effect of this?
  • How has Boty used formal elements such as colour and composition to put across the mood and atmosphere of the painting?
  • Does this painting fit in with what you know about the style and imagery of Pop Art? What makes it a Pop Art painting?

Teacher notes

The painting shows a full-length portrait of Marilyn Monroe, a famous American film star from the 1950s and early 1960s. She is presented between two planes of flat green colour that are decorated with bold abstract shapes. It is as if we are looking through a doorway or a parted curtain and catching a glimpse of the star. The bright abstract shapes perhaps reflect Boty's stained glass training.

Her source image is a photograph of Marilyn Monroe. (The photograph was a press image for the 1959 film Some Like It Hot.) Boty has perhaps chosen to frame the image of Monroe between abstract planes to accentuate the fact that the image we often see of her is as an icon rather than a real person. She appears removed from us, separated by the flat planes of colour. The bright colours and dynamic abstract shapes also add dynamism and movement to the image – reflecting the movement of her walking.

Although Boty used a photograph as the source for the figure of Monroe, she didn't try to make the image look like a photograph. She painted Monroe using quick, gestural marks. These and the silvery-white colours that Boty used for her clothes, make the star seem full of life and effervescent (despite her death the previous year).

The celebrity subject matter, bold colours and the graphic quality of the abstract shapes reflect the qualities we associate with Pop Art.

Discussion activity: compare and contrast

Task students with comparing Pauline Boty's painting Colour Her Gone (1962) with American Pop artist Andy Warhol's Marilyn Diptych (1962). This could be a whole class activity or you could task students with working in pairs or small groups to discuss the artwork.

Encourage students to discuss the similarities and differences between the artworks and to think about the artists' intentions.

Use the discussion prompts below the artworks if helpful.

Discussion prompts

  • Who can you see depicted in these paintings?
  • Where do you think the source images for their paintings might have come from?
  • Discuss the formal elements: how has each artist used technique, composition, colour and mark-making?
  • Compare the mood or atmosphere of the paintings. What does each artwork make you think and feel? Do you respond in the same way to the artworks?
  • What impression of Marilyn Monroe do you think each artist wanted to put across?
  • We are used to seeing images of celebrities on the TV, the internet or on social media. Compare the images of Marilyn Monroe to celebrity images you might see today. Do you think the way celebrities appear and the way we respond to them has changed much in sixty years?

Teacher notes

Both artworks depict Marilyn Monroe and were made in 1962 – soon after the death of the film star. Monroe was often featured in Pop artworks because she was an iconic celebrity with an immediately recognisable image that was much reproduced in the popular media in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Each artist has paid tribute to Monroe, using a photograph of her as their starting point. But their approaches to the subject are very different.

Marilyn Diptych by Andy Warhol

Warhol's artwork is one of 20 paintings he made of the film star in the months after her death. For Warhol, the figure of Monroe combined two themes that fascinated him – celebrity and mortality.

Warhol used a slick publicity photograph of Marilyn Monroe, made for the 1953 film Niagara, for this artwork. He used a silkscreen technique which allowed him to repeat the same image again and again on the canvas. Warhol would often paint into a silkscreened image with acrylic paint after printing it, adding bright colours and gestural marks with a brush.

Marilyn Diptych

Marilyn Diptych 1962

Andy Warhol (1928–1987)

Tate

By repeating the image of Monroe within this composition Warhol is perhaps commenting on the proliferation of images of celebrities and our familiarity with their images. (Their image becomes so familiar that we stop seeing them as individuals.)

On one side of the diptych, Monroe is presented in bold, brash colours that make her appear unreal and artificial. On the other side of the diptych, the black-and-white images of her become smudged and fade away, perhaps referencing her mortality.

Colour Her Gone by Pauline Boty

In Pauline Boty's painting, Marilyn Monroe appears more natural. The photograph she has used as her inspiration is more informal than Warhol's source photograph. Monroe wears a simple pale blue top, her hair is unstyled and her smile looks genuine. The source photograph looks as if it could be a snapshot taken by a friend rather than a formal publicity image.

Colour Her Gone

Colour Her Gone 1962

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Wolverhampton Arts and Heritage

Unlike Warhol, Boty shows Monroe as a real woman who seems happy in her self-assured femininity. She is surrounded by red roses, a symbol of love, romance and passion – which Boty often used to represent female sexuality.

Boty pays tribute to the life force that Monroe was. Whereas Warhol creates a more detached image – which he uses to contemplate themes of celebrity and mortality.

Marilyn Monroe perhaps resonated with Boty because, like Monroe, Boty was an attractive blonde woman who was often discussed and judged in relation to her looks rather than her talent. Boty shows us a more nuanced Monroe than the images of the star created by male Pop artists.

Art activity: create a Pop Art portrait

Task students with making a portrait inspired by Pop Art. This could be a portrait of themselves or of someone else.

The Only Blonde in the World

The Only Blonde in the World 1963

Pauline Boty (1938–1966)

Tate

Celebrity portraits

They might choose to explore the idea of celebrity.

  • What do celebrity portraits today look like?
  • How do celebrities pose?
  • Could students make themselves look like a celebrity?
  • Is there a celebrity who represents the popular culture of the 2020s, in the way that Marilyn Monroe was an iconic symbol of the 1960s?

Portraits with a message

Students could use their portraits to criticise or satirise how people are presented in the media.

Swingeing London '67

Swingeing London '67 1967–1968

Richard Hamilton (1922–2011)

Pallant House Gallery

Or they could celebrate someone who they feel is important – a historical or a contemporary figure.

Artist Greg Bunbury used Pop Art style to pay tribute to nurse Mary Seacole in his billboard for the Black Outdoor Art project.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole 2020

Greg Bunbury (b.1976)

Black Outdoor Art

'Mary Seacole is my take on the iconic Andy Warhol/Marilyn Monroe diptych. Mary Seacole is commonly considered to be one of the greatest black Britons of all time, and my piece is a commentary on visibility, celebrity and Western ideals of femininity.' – Greg Bunbury

Medium, style and technique

Pop artists were united by their interest in popular culture. But although Pop Art is often characterised by bright flat colours and simple bold shapes there isn't just one Pop Art medium or style.

Encourage students to explore a range of Pop Art portraits as inspiration for their own projects. Use the artworks in the carousel below as a starting point or browse more Pop Art on Art UK. 

You could look at Pop portraits as a class or assign students an artwork to analyse and respond to, tasking them with using it as an inspiration for their own portrait project.

  • Look at the media and techniques that the artist has used.
  • Analyse the formal qualities of the portrait, such as the colour, composition and mark-making.
  • What is the mood of the portrait? How does the person in the portrait come across?
  • What do you think was the artist's intention in creating the portrait?

 

Art activity: create a cut-and-paste Pop Art collage

Collage was used by many Pop artists as a way of introducing imagery from popular culture directly into their artworks. As a non-traditional art technique, it also appealed to Pop artists.

Interior Study (a)

Interior Study (a) 1964

Richard Hamilton (1922–2011)

Museum & Art Swindon

Task students with creating a Pop Art style collage using a mix of imagery from the everyday.

You could introduce the activity by asking them:

  • If you updated Pop Art to reflect pop culture in the 2020s, what imagery would you include?

Imagery and technique ideas

Students could use:

  • images, slogans and texts from advertising
  • characters or scenes from films, TV series or computer games
  • images from news channels, social media or newspapers
  • photographs of celebrities
  • lyrics from pop songs.

Their artwork could be a collage on paper using images cut out from magazines or printed from a computer. Or you could task students with creating a digital artwork on a computer or tablet, using photo editing tools.

An Arrangement on Blue (Swamp Rat Skank)

An Arrangement on Blue (Swamp Rat Skank) 2015

Simeon Barclay (b.1975)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Mood, atmosphere and message

Encourage students to think about the mood, atmosphere – or message – that they want to put across in their collage.

  • It could be a fun celebration of popular culture generally.
  • It might express their own tastes – reflecting things they like or find interesting.
  • They may choose to put across a message in their work. For example, they could address the influence and impact of social media on contemporary life.

Art activity: Pop Art and activism

British Pop artists in particular often used their art to reflect on and criticise what was happening in society.

As well as exploring the female experience in relation to society, Pauline Boty responded to current politics. In Countdown to Violence (1964) she reflects on the events of 1963 and the history of male violence more generally. The painting includes an image of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, a coffin wrapped in the American flag and a newspaper image showing police violence against Black people during the 1963 race riots in America.

 
 
 
View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Pauline Boty (@pauline__boty)

Task students with creating an activist artwork using bold Pop Art techniques. You could assign them a subject that relates to an issue they may have studied in other subjects – such as injustice, climate change, pollution, or the damaging effects of consumerism on the environment.

  • What type of imagery would help put their message across?
  • Could text within their artwork help clarify their message or make it more powerful?
  • Which Pop Art media and techniques might be most suitable for their ideas?
  • How might they use formal qualities such as composition and colour to create an eye-catching, impactful artwork? 

Portland

Portland 2012

Day Bowman

The Priseman Seabrook Collections


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