Top 10 Best : American Modern Art : Four Pop Artists and a Paint Slinger !

Welcome to the Artists Cafe
My previous article talked about commercial artists and these entries could also be thought of as commercial since their works command substantial sums when the rare piece is brought up for auction.
These artists exploited a unique approach to their subjects, which ranged far and wide through the cultural backgrounds of their times.

LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) started his art career while he was a cook in the US Army during World War 2. He was a stage set painter for the Red Cross shows. He attended the Art Institute of Chicago on the G.I. Bill and stayed on after graduation as a teacher. A free lance illustration job with a department store introduced him to the future publisher, Hugh Hefner. This began an association with Playboy Magazine that would last for a half century. It was Neiman who invented the cute “Femlin” character who graced the Joke Page and his splashy, colorful paintings and illustrations were featured in articles and on the covers.

Neiman’s artwork lent a sophistication to Playboy Magazine with his travel posters for exotic locations. He also had a knack for depicting sporting events that introduced his work to an even broader audience. His paintings glamorized the nightlife of gambling and music festivals. It’s fair to say that Neiman’s vision of the world of Playboy helped to raise the fortunes of that publishing empire so it could be enjoyed by Hugh Hefner and shared with men around the world.

Read ” LeRoy Neiman : Five Decades” by LeRoy Neiman and Richard Brilliant. There are over 300 color pictures and a generous history. At almost seven pounds, we recommend not dropping this brick of literature on your foot.

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was a sickly child born to a coal miners family in Pittsburgh. He was often ill in bed where he listened to the radio and collected magazines about movie stars. His interest in the celebrity lifestyle became a major influence in his pursuit of an art career and led directly to his success as an illustrator and commercial artist.

Warhol made a splash in the 1960’s with his rendition of Campbell’s Soup Cans, which somehow caused a controversy about the boundaries of fine art. He used cameras and silk screen techniques to send up the concepts of commercialism, celebrity, and mass production. He enlisted a small army of eccentric characters to explore art, music and film making.
It was Warhol who introduced the concept that everyone would have their 15 minutes of fame.

Fame was a constant source of inspiration and he exploited and manipulated iconic images of Marilyn Monroe, Liz Taylor and Elvis for some of his most memorable pieces. He became a publisher of “Interview” magazine to promote the cult of personality. Andy’s own notoriety and his influence on the workers of his “Factory” came to a violent turn in 1968 when one of his obsessive students tried to assassinate him.

After that near death experience, Warhol made efforts to quiet down his life and stir up less controversy. He became focused on “Art as a business” and improved his finances. One of his main joys in life was shopping and his estate contained a diversity of items like his famous cookie jar collection. The posthumous auction raised more than 20 million dollars that were earmarked to support the visual arts.
In Pittsburgh, Andy is remembered by the largest museum dedicated to a single artist.

There are so many books about Andy Warhol that I am going to refer you to “Andy Warhol : Giant Size” by Dave Hickey and Steven Blutta, which is a good place to start.

Roy Liechtenstein (1923-1997) was born into a prosperous family in New York and had early interests in music and illustration. He attended a variety of art schools and even got training as a draftsman during his stint with the US Army. He held a position as an art teacher in Ohio and had some gallery showings. It was in 1957 that he developed an interest in abstract expressionism that set him on a distinctive path.

By 1961, he waded into the stream of Pop Art when his young son challenged him to duplicate the popular character, Mickey Mouse. This led to a series of comic books and gum wrapper inspired works. He also delved into “Industrial Art” with studies of mundane household items. A scheduled art showing in New York made a sensation when all the paintings were purchased by collectors before the show could open.

Liechtenstein used a technique of simulating a photographic printing process called “Ben-Day” dots.
His explorations of comic book subjects were often the target of scathingly negative reviews at the same time that his fame and popularity was spreading worldwide. Towards the later part of his career, Roy enjoyed painting his own interpretations of works by Cezanne, Picasso and Van Gogh. The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has gathered the largest collection of his work.

Read “Image Duplicator: Emergence of Pop Art ” by Michael Lobel.

Peter Max (1937- present) was born in Berlin in a time of persecution and chaos. His family fled from the Holocaust with stops in China, Israel and Paris. His visit to the Louvre lent an appreciation for art that continued when the family finally settled in New York City. Max rose to national prominence in the psychedelic 1960’s with his cosmic and colorful poster work. He was featured in commercial advertising for the 7-UP soft drink company and became a frequent guest on talk shows. His ability to draw with both his left and right hands simultaneously was impressive. His style was hugely imitated, but never quite duplicated.

Although Peter Max was deemed to arise from the Counter Culture, his works became a pillar of the mainstream. He frequently has used political figures as his subjects, provided posters for international sporting events and even designed postage stamps. His talent is still in demand and his gallery in Las Vegas is a tourist attraction.

Read “The Art of Peter Max” by Peter Max and Charles A. Riley.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was the product of Irish and Scotch parents. His father, who was born a McCoy, had taken the name Pollock from his adoptive parents. Jackson grew up in the western states of Wyoming, Arizona and California and he was strongly influenced by the imagery and sand paintings of the Native American culture. He was a troubled youth, frequently expelled from school, a chronic drinker, and a rebellious spirit. His battle with alcoholism led him to psychotherapy where he was encouraged to expel his demons through the expression of artwork.

His early efforts were distinctive and he gained the support of an arts patron, Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him settle down with his bride on Long Island.
During this time known as the Spring Period, he discovered and mastered a technique of pouring and splattering liquid paint on floor mounted canvas that became his signature style. The results of his often violent thrashing were not agreeable to everyone and he was labeled as, “Jack the Dripper”, by critics. His admirers claimed to see allusions to Quantum physics and fractal mathematical theories. One of the great stories of art has a Pollock canvas being discovered at a thrift shop after being discarded as a painters drop cloth.

Pollocks’ paint slinging was the mode that made him famous. When he later moved away from that style, he was again the subject of derision. He stopped giving names to his paintings and assigned numbers instead. His drinking led to an early death in a car crash. For years, his legacy was supported by his widow and fellow artist, Lee Krasner, who helped establish a foundation to give support to artists in financial need.

Read “Jackson Pollock” by Kirk Varnedoe and Pepe Karmel. The movie starring Ed Harris is a must see.

I hope you have enjoyed this discussion.
Stay tuned for other chapters in this series which will deal with classically trained craftsmen, impressionists, surrealists and cubism.

For now, here are some links to other articles I wrote pertaining to :
Hollywood Legends
Science Fiction

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