The Pop Art movement in Britain set the tone for the visual language of the Swinging Sixties. What was to become Pop, christened apparently by the art critic Lawrence Alloway, emerged from the hugely influential Independent Group which had evolved around the ICA in London in the mid 1950s.
Among the chief players was the young Scots Italian artist, Eduardo Paolozzi, whose unique brand of sculpture, collage and printmaking derived its ingredients from the art inspired by Surrealism, and fuelled by American popular culture and found objects which he had created in Paris in the years immediately after the Second World War.
Paolozzi’s work over the coming half century until his death in 2005 would build on this theme with increasing ingenuity. Using industrial engineering and a diverse array of materials, he managed to create some of the most memorable and highly collectable works of 20th century British art, particularly in print and relief sculpture.
Following on directly from Paolozzi’s groundbreaking work at the ICA, David Hockney and Joe Tilson broke on to the London art scene in 1961, in that year’s Young Contemporaries exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery which also notably featured Allen Jones and RB Kitaj. Three years later, disillusioned by the British art establishment, Hockney moved to California where, resident for four years, he began to work in acrylics, creating a series of paintings of swimming pools. Of these, the most famous, A Bigger Splash, brought him huge international recognition.
During the 1960s and early seventies Hockney created a series of portraits focusing on his friends and colleagues among whom were some of the most talented artist’s designers, scientists and intellectuals of the age. Among these his understated pencil portrait and lithograph of Felix Mann, typify his linear style at this moment.
Almost contemporary with the Hockney is a work by Joe Tilson from 1968. Tilson’s early work had been in a realist style but quickly moved to abstraction and by the early 1960s had began to produce pieces in brightly coloured wood remininscent of childrens’ toys. Tilson’s screenprints often transform this imagery into a two-dimensional format or provide a commentary to his oeuvre.
If any images, however, conjure up the spirit of the era of British Pop Art, it is the screenprints of Gerald Laing who had studied at London’s St Martin’s College in 1963, before moving to New York where he knew Warhol, Rosenquist and Lichtenstein, among others.
Best known for his iconic Brigitte Bardot of 1968, Laing also produced a number of other instantly recognisable screenprints including Dragsters, Pendulum, Parachutes and the coquettish sexual energy of Baby Baby Wild Things.
Laing carried on working up to his death in 2011, crossing over from a realist form of sculpture to re-embrace the essential directness and simplicity which had made his early work so hugely powerful.
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