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Demystifying & Celebrating Pop Art In New Zealand

Demystifying & Celebrating Pop Art In New Zealand

Imagine a world where soup cans and comic strips are hung in museums alongside portraits of nobility. That's the electrifying world of Pop Art, a movement that not only burst onto the scene in the 1950s and 60s but also left an indelible mark on the art world.

And it’s still making waves today, especially here in New Zealand's creative hub. As a New Zealand artist, I too, have personally incorporated pop art elements into my artwork over many years. Boozehag or Chardonnay Minx, as she is also known, has a distinctive pop art look. Let’s not forget my unique pop art pet portraits.

What Makes Pop Art So Unique?

Pop Art wasn't just about sticking a comic strip on a canvas. It was a revolutionary movement that challenged the very definition of art in the 1950s and 60s. Here's what made it stand out:

  • The Democratisation of Art: Pop Art broke away from the traditional subjects of art history, mythology, religion, and portraits of the wealthy. Instead, it embraced the every day: soup cans, comic book characters, advertisements, and celebrities. This shift made art more relatable to the average person, no longer confined to museums and the elite.

  • A Celebration of Popular Culture: While previous art movements focused on highbrow culture like literature and classical music, Pop Art revelled in the explosion of popular culture – movies, television, advertising, and pop music. It incorporated these elements into art, blurring the lines between "high" and "low" culture.

  • The Power of Repetition and Appropriation: Pop Art artists often used techniques like silkscreen printing to create repetitive images. This challenged the idea of artistic originality and highlighted the mass-produced nature of consumer culture. Consumer culture revolves around the idea that happiness and fulfilment are achieved through acquiring and using goods. Mass-produced goods are marketed to create desire and encourage people to buy more. Pop art often incorporates imagery from mass-produced goods like Campbell's soup cans by Andy Warhol, comic books, and advertisements.  By appropriating existing imagery from advertising and popular media, Pop Art artists forced viewers to question the messages embedded within these familiar images.

  • Bold Colours and Graphic Techniques: Gone were the subtle hues and delicate brushstrokes of traditional paintings. Pop Art embraced bold, primary colours and graphic techniques like thick outlines and flat areas of colour. These elements were inspired by comic books, advertisements, and product packaging, creating a visually arresting and instantly recognisable style.

  • A Playful and Ironic Tone: Like my Boozehag character, Pop Art wasn't always serious commentary. Many Pop Art works employed humour, irony, and even kitsch to make their point. This playful approach made the movement more accessible and engaging for a wider audience.

These unique characteristics combined to create a vibrant and dynamic art form that continues to resonate with audiences today.

Collette Fergus Pop art painting

How Would You Define Pop Art?

Pop Art wasn't a monolithic movement. While it shared core characteristics globally, each region added its own unique flavour. Here in New Zealand, Pop Art took on a life of its own, defined by these key aspects that reflect our local identity and social issues:

  • Local Identity and Iconography: Kiwi Pop Art wasn't just about replicating American imagery. Artists like Dick Frizzel incorporated distinctly Aotearoa elements into their work. For instance, the Mickey to Tiki artwork one of New Zealands most famous paintings using iconic New Zealand imagery of the Maori Tiki or other artists who incorporate imagery like pohutukawa trees, native birds like the kiwi, or local brands and packaging. These elements explored themes of national identity and the impact of globalisation on New Zealand culture.

  • Social Commentary with a Kiwi Wit: Pop Art often offered a playful critique of consumerism and mass media. New Zealand Pop artists adopted this approach, but with a characteristic Kiwi wit and sense of humour. This lighter touch resonated with audiences and made the social commentary more palatable. This can be seen in the humour shared in the duo Weston Frizzells’ artwork

  • Indigenous Influences: Some New Zealand Pop Art incorporated elements of Maori art and culture. This could involve using traditional Maori motifs like spirals (koru) or weaving patterns (taniko) within a Pop Art framework. This fusion challenged the dominance of Western Pop Art imagery and celebrated the unique artistic heritage of New Zealand.

By incorporating these local elements, New Zealand Pop Art created a vibrant and diverse body of work that spoke to the country's specific experiences and identity.

Why Was Pop Art Controversial?

The inclusion of the mundane and commercial in Pop Art triggered a massive debate within the art world. Here's a deeper look at the reasons behind the controversy:

  • A Challenge to Artistic Merit: Traditionally, art was seen as a product of creativity, skill, and emotional expression. With its use of mass-produced imagery and mechanical reproduction techniques (like silkscreen printing), Pop Art challenged this notion. Critics argued that anyone could take a Campbell's soup can and call it art, diminishing the value of artistic talent and the creative process.

  • A Glorification of Consumerism? Some saw Pop Art's focus on popular culture, advertising, and brand logos as a celebration of consumerism and materialism. Critics argued that Pop Art simply reflected and reinforced the values of a capitalist society, lacking any deeper meaning or critical commentary.

  • Blurring the Lines Between High and Low Culture: Pop art elevated everyday objects and pop culture icons to the status of "high art." This offended traditionalists who believed art should be about more profound themes, not fleeting trends or mass entertainment.

  • Devaluing Artistic Skill: Pop art's repetitive nature, often achieved through silkscreen printing, led some to believe it lacked the technical skill and artistry associated with traditional painting or sculpture. They argued that anyone could reproduce an image using a machine, diminishing the value of artistic technique and craftsmanship. But hey, what's not possible these days with digital manipulation, especially AI?

In fact, Pop Art's defenders saw it as a breath of fresh air. They argued that Pop art was:

  • Art for the Masses: Pop Art made art more accessible to a broader audience by using familiar imagery and everyday objects. It challenged the elitism of the art world, making art relevant to the lives and experiences of everyday people.

  • A Reflection of Its Time: Pop Art was a product of the post-war consumer boom and the rise of mass media. By incorporating these elements into art, Pop Art reflected the realities of contemporary society and sparked conversations about the impact of popular culture.

  • A Critique of Consumerism: While some saw Pop Art as a celebration of consumerism, others argued that it was actually a critique. By presenting familiar brand logos and advertising imagery in a new context, Pop Art encouraged viewers to question the messages they were bombarded with daily.

  • A New Definition of Art: Pop Art broadened the definition of what art could be. It challenged the idea that art had to be beautiful, unique, or created by a single artist. Pop Art embraced mechanical reproduction, collaboration, and the use of everyday objects, paving the way for new artistic movements.

Pop Art's controversy ultimately stemmed from its radical departure from traditional art forms. It forced people to confront the changing nature of art and its place in contemporary society.

Why Is Pop Art So Colourful? A Visual Explosion

Pop Art's vibrant colours aren't just there for aesthetics; they're a powerful tool for communication and a key element of the movement's identity. Here's how Pop Art uses colour to grab attention and make a statement:

  • High-Impact Visuals: Pop Art often borrowed colour palettes directly from advertising and popular culture. Think of the bold primaries and saturated hues used in comic books, billboards, and product packaging. These eye-catching colours were designed to grab attention in a crowded visual landscape, and Pop Art adopted this strategy to make its art stand out.

  • A Celebration of Everyday Life: Pop art embraced the vibrancy of the everyday world. In the post-war era, vibrant colours were incorporated into artworks, reflecting the optimism and energy of consumer goods such as ‘candy’ or sweet wrappers.

  • A Challenge to Traditional Art: Traditional paintings often used muted tones and subtle colour harmonies. Pop Art's bold and unnatural colour combinations challenged these conventions. Flat, saturated colours created a sense of detachment and irony, reminding viewers that these were not realistic depictions but manufactured images.

  • Emotional Impact: Color in Pop Art wasn't just about grabbing attention; it could also evoke specific emotions. The cool blues and stark blacks of Lichtenstein's comic book adaptations created a sense of drama and tension. Warhol's use of contrasting colours in his celebrity portraits could heighten the sense of fame and glamour or generate a feeling of detachment and isolation.

  • Emphasis and Symbolism: Pop Artists used colour strategically to draw attention to specific elements within a work. A burst of bright colour against a muted background could highlight a particular object or message. Additionally, some Pop artists associated specific colours with particular themes – for example, red might symbolise passion or danger.

By using colour in such a bold and innovative way, Pop Art created a visual language that was both visually arresting and intellectually stimulating. The vibrant colours not only made the art stand out but also added layers of meaning and commentary to the artwork.

Pop Art NZ: A Legacy of Bold Creativity

Pop Art may have started in the mid-20th century, but its spirit is alive and well. It's a constant reminder that art can be found anywhere, even in a can of soup. And if you're looking to add some pop to your life, there are plenty of amazing New Zealand Pop Art pieces for sale out there by both established and emerging artists. So why not embrace the bold, the bright, and the beautiful?

From Furry Friends to Pop Art Icons: My Take on Pet Portraits

As an artist, I've always been drawn to the vibrancy and energy of Pop Art. It's the bold colours, graphic elements, and degree to which it elevates the every day that appeals to me. In recent years, I've found a way to bring that same energy to something truly special in Pop Art pet portraits.

Our pets are more than just animals. They are integral parts of our lives. They bring us happiness, laughter, and unwavering love. So, why not commemorate them in a way that's both distinctive and chic? Pop Art pet portraits offer the perfect way to do just that.

I take a multi-layered approach to create these unique pet portraits. It all starts with capturing your pet's essence. Whether it's the regal gaze of a cat or the playful energy of a puppy, I want to translate their personality onto the canvas.

Then, I bring out the big guns, the bold colours, the graphic elements, and the pop culture references (think dogs in human clothes or Warhol-inspired felines!). It's a creative blend that transforms your furry friend into a one-of-a-kind pop art masterpiece.

pop art pet portrait of a black cat by Collette Fergus

Pop Art Pet Portrait by Collette

The most rewarding part of my work is witnessing the sheer delight on people's faces when they receive their completed portrait. It's a testament that Pop Art isn't just about soup cans and celebrities. It's about celebrating the things we hold dear, and for many of us, that includes our furry companions.

So, if you're looking for a way to immortalise your pet in a playful and artistic way, consider a Pop Art pet portrait. And hey, it doesn't matter where you are in the world—I don't just do pet portraits for New Zealand!I will also send my artworks internationally so hit me up on the coats. I'd love to collaborate with you and turn your beloved pet into a pop art superstar.

Contact Collette now



Posted: Monday 27 May 2024


Don't forget to take a look at more of New Zealand contemporary artist's work in Collette's Online Galleries