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Famous Pop Art Artists' Everlasting Influence on Graphic Design

By on Jul 15, 2021 in Inspiration
Famous Pop Art Artists' Everlasting Influence on Graphic Design

You can thank famous pop art artists for the endless impact their genre has made on graphic design. Whenever you think of mass media, comics, and even collages, you remember the works of legends like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns. These trailblazers of experimentation have left a profound impression on design.

Students in art schools still learn about famous pop art in their courses and intently study the creations of pop art artists to pick up design traits they can use in their own careers. Design museums all over the world still showcase the timeless works of these artists, which are admired by countless visitors year after year.

The graphic design world is forever changed and better for the trailblazing works of these visionaries. The best way to appreciate their influence on graphic design is to run down their long and impressive list of contributions.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol's pop art dominated the scene of this design movement in the 1960s. Today, his name is virtually synonymous with abstract expressionism and the use of celebrity culture and advertising in his designs. It only makes sense to start off this list with whom many consider the pioneer of the genre.

Warhol contributed numerous epic artworks to this visual format. They range from paintings to sculptures to photography to everything in between. Here are some of his most well-known.

Campbell’s Soup Cans

One of the trademarks of pop art artists was to use themes and images from commercials and pop culture. In Warhol’s famed Soup Cans, he took 32 canvasses that featured Campbell’s soup can paintings and then stacked them on top of each other and in rows. Each of the 32 canvasses shows a different flavor of Campbell’s soup, such as Pepper Pot Soup and Scotch Broth Soup. His work turned out to be “non-painterly,” as in it didn’t contain any noticeable traces of painting, such as brushstrokes. To achieve the look he was going for, Warhol used a so-called screen-printing process that instead transfers ink onto a surface with a mesh.

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The beauty of Warhol’s composition is its play on something most of us have had in our kitchens as the focal point for his take on “fine art.” There’s also an odd sense of symmetry in his piece, with four rows across and eight columns top to bottom. Because of the kitschy approach to art, which was meant to actually be his ode to modern culture, his Soup Cans were initially received by critics and the public as something offensive.

However, in 2006, one of the paintings from this Soup Cans series was sold for almost $12 million.

Elvis Presley Paintings

In the 60s, Warhol started his obsession with focusing on American iconic objects. This included celebrities like Elvis Presley. Warhol made a number of paintings of Elvis, but they mostly showed the late entertainer in a gunslinger pose. Warhol had various titles for this artwork:

  • Elvis I and II
  • Triple Elvis
  • Eight Elvises

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All the aforementioned paintings were done in silkscreen on canvas, with acrylic, and created in 1963. Sometimes in color, sometimes in monochrome, the artworks show Elvis in a bow-legged stance, gun drawn, with eyes dead ahead.

Howdy Doody

Howdy Doody was a kids’ TV show that ran from 1947 to 1960. This long-running show featured the titular puppet in different Western-frontier and circus themes. The program was also a pioneer of the use of early color in broadcast TV.

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Naturally, Warhol couldn’t resist using Howdy Doody in his famous pop art contributions. After all, for its time, it was a pop-culture mainstay. In 1981, Warhol created a portrait of the puppet, simply named Howdy Doody. This represents one of Warhol’s latest artworks, as he died in 1987.

This portrait shows the freckle-faced puppet in Western gear, with its colors saturated and the painting a little bit out of focus.

Roy Lichtenstein

Taking inspiration from comic strips for his pieces, Roy Lichtenstein was famous for using parody in his pop art contributions. A New Yorker, he was seen as a disrupter in the art scene. Interestingly, he thought of this design movement not as an American movement but, rather, an industrial movement.

Here are some of his most well-known artworks.

Whaam!

A 1963 diptych, a painting with two flat planes attached by a hinge, Lichtenstein’s Whaam! Looks like it could be in the pages of any comic book of its era. Drawing on some of his own experiences as a serviceman in the US Army in World War II, Lichtenstein’s painting features a fighter plane firing a rocket (left-hand side) that makes contact with a second plane, sending it exploding into flames (right-hand side).

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The illustration shows bursts of abstract expressionism that some onlookers have noted as nervous energy. It also symbolizes a well-thought-out composition since the left-hand side epitomizes the action of the painting, while the right-hand side (with the word “Whaam!” spelled out) brings it to completion.

Look Mickey

This is seen as the painting that bridged Lichtenstein’s pop art and abstract expressionism. A 1961 oil-on-canvas offering, it shows the artist’s earnest move into pop art by using two well-known pop-culture icons. Featuring Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, it shows Donald telling Mickey that he caught a big fish, failing to realize that he’s snagged the end of his coattail on his lure instead. Mickey’s response is his gloved hand over his mouth, trying to stop his laughter.

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The composition is quite vibrant, with loud yellows, piercing reds, and soothing blues. There’s also a semblance of balance in the frame, with more or less equal weight of elements on both sides of the composition.

Here’s a sampling of more contemporary pop art graphic design:

Jasper Johns

Among pop art artists, no one is maybe better known for his depictions of the American flag and other American-centric topics than Jasper Johns. A painter and sculptor, Johns’ works regularly sell for millions of dollars at auction and sale.

He first began his focus on American flag painting back in the 1950s.

Flag

Simply titled Flag, Johns’ 1955 creation shows what a painter can do with an encaustic painting. Working with hot wax, Johns made this when he was only 24 years old, after being discharged by the US Army. Jasper’s source for inspiration is said to be a dream he had about Old Glory.

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It’s interesting to note that the flag only has 48 stars because it excludes Alaska and Hawaii, both of which only entered the Union in 1959. If you look closely, you can see some newsprint under the stripes. Johns was attracted to painting the flag (something that he would repeat numerous times over the course of his career) because it liberated him to focus on the execution of the painting technique. After all, the flag was already a well-known design.

Three Flags

Continuing Johns’ dedication to the flag theme in his famous pop art, Three Flags from 1958 is another encaustic production. However, where it’s distinctly different is in its composition.

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Proving that three flags are better than one, it shows Old Glory in a tiered composition, with the flag closest to the viewer being the smallest. What’s also neat is the impression of a three-dimensional artwork, as each subsequent flag is about 25% smaller than the preceding one. Since Three Flags was created in 1958, it also shows just 48 stars, as it falls one year short of Alaska’s and Hawaii’s entry into the Union.

Since its creation, it’s been showcased in a multitude of books, magazines, and exhibitions about American history.

James Rosenquist

Another giant in the pop art movement, Rosenquist’s impact on pop art graphic design was unique. Unlike other artists in the movement, he specifically sought out to include surrealism in his works to make the point that pop culture and advertising had gotten so out of control. Maybe more so than some of the others, Rosenquist’s pieces incorporated cultural icons frequently.

Untitled (Joan Crawford Says…)

An ode to the old-time star of the silver screen, Joan Crawford, Untitled is a commentary of an actress’ ubiquitous presence in the media and advertising. In the composition, Crawford is nothing more than an ad icon who speaks in generalities, presenting more ad slogans.

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If we get past Rosenquist’s parody of pop culture, we see that his 1964 oil on canvas is actually a pretty painting. It boasts vibrant colors and effective shading that, together, give it a sort of timeless flair. Even the script typeface in the Joan Crawford says… headline is a well-placed allusion to the classic designs of old Hollywood.

Marylin

After Marylin Monroe’s suicide, Rosenquist put together this 1962 portrait of her in a surrealistic way. Almost more like a collage than anything else, the composition is upside-down and a real patchwork of disjoined components of Monroe’s persona. For example, you see an eye, a mouth, and a nose in different quadrants of the piece. Rosenquist even used the traditional Coca-Cola script font in the work to highlight the meshing of celebrity with pop culture and commercialism.

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Because of all the disparate parts joined together, you may have to take a moment or two to figure out what’s really going on in the frame. All told, it’s a stimulating example of how famous pop art can make you contemplate the culture around you more philosophically.

Robert Rauschenberg

This multi-faceted pop art artist specialized in sculpting, painting, photography, papermaking, printmaking, and performance art. He enjoyed a career that spanned about six decades, during which time he produced many famous works. Of note is the fact that he was an early pioneer of this movement when it was still called Neo-Dada in the 1950s, before it finally took off as pop art proper in the 60s.

Coca Cola Plan

From 1958, just before the pop culture explosion of artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg’s Coca Cola Plan debuted to the public. A sign of things to come in this art movement, it shows the themes of critiquing commercialization and advertising with its inclusion of Coca-Cola bottles in the piece.

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An installation—a piece of art that’s three-dimensional, specific to a given location, and meant to transform the interpretation of its environment—Coca Cola Plan is part of the artist’s combine paintings. That’s an artwork that combines elements of painting and sculpture. This installation shows the coke bottles, wings, and a globe all as part of a wooden structure. It also highlights Rauschenberg’s fondness for using ordinary objects and even items people had discarded as part of his works.

Canyon

Canyon epitomizes what’s known as a combined painting, a style that Rauschenberg explored particularly well during his career. A piece that’s quite a point of contention among critics, it depicts a stuffed bald eagle that seems to rise up right from the canvas itself. There are also other bits and pieces in the composition, such as a mirror, a pillow, and even an image of Rauschenberg’s son.

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Likely due to the sheer mishmash of disparate elements, people have read all sorts of implications and messages in Canyon. This includes everything from nationalism (due to the stuffed bald eagle) to Greek mythology. The artist, however, has never confirmed or denied this one way or another, preferring instead to leave the subjective interpretation up to his audience.

Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana carved out his own niche within famous pop art, thanks to designs that centered on minimalist and iconic images, numbers, and words like LOVE, HUG, and EAT. An Indianan, he was fond of working with Cor-ten steel and silkscreen.

Here’s a look at some of his timeless artworks.

Love

Indiana’s most well-known and iconic sculpture, Love was created in 1970 and is based on his original 1965 Love image that was initially done for The Museum of Modern Art’s (MOMA) Christmas card. Made from Cor-ten steel, the sculpture has a number of interesting design features.

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For one, the L stands right on top of the V as one complete unit altogether. Then, the O and E, respectively, are standalone units that connect to the LV block. The E’s right, uppermost serif joins with the V’s left, upper serif. The O’s lowest curve attaches to the top bar of the E, and then it comes into contact with the L on the uppermost edge of the lower left serif of the L.

Picasso, The American Dream

For a newer work by Indiana, we now look to 1998’s Picasso, The American Dream. This is a figurative work that some say looks like a logo designed specifically for the late Pablo Picasso. To be sure, it gives off the impression of being part of a business’ branding.

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Indiana is definitely commemorating Picasso’s life and death here; you even see the dates of the artist’s birth (1881) and the date of his death (‘73). Also of note is the perfect symmetry in the balance of the PP wordmark, as well as how it’s the focal point of this entire logo. The use of colors is another design treat since it gives the eye much to work with.

Eduardo Paolozzi

Considered one of the founders and pioneers of famous pop art, Eduardo Paolozzi was a Scotsman. This showed the influence of this movement on both sides of the pond. An artist and sculptor, Paolozzi created posters and other visionary artworks as early as the 1940s; these would become the precursor to true pop art, when it would invade American shores by the 60s and be represented by the likes of Warhol and Lichtenstein.

I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything

From 1947, I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything exemplifies Paolozzi’s groundbreaking vision. Widely viewed as a trailblazer of this genre, it’s a collage fashioned out of American magazines and ads, then mounted onto a card. Simple in its layout, it’s essentially a small collection of found objects—art made out of everyday items that have been modified a bit, but are not generally thought of as materials for artwork—that have been juxtaposed into a composition.

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It’s considered the first of its kind because it actually incorporates the word “pop” into the collage itself. This preceded the English art critic Lawrence Alloway, credited with coining this design movement’s name.

Like all good collages, it includes disparate elements like:

  • A magazine cover from Intimate Confessions
  • A toy gun
  • A cherry pie and a cherry
  • Real Gold lemon juice logo
  • A Coca-Cola ad
  • A picture of a Lockheed Ventura bomber

Meet the People

From 1948, Meet the People is another collage by Paolozzi. This time, it’s a sendup of American pop culture by featuring some well-known pop culture icons. Another collage constructed from magazines and clippings shared with him by American servicemen, the artwork features Lucille Ball and Minnie Mouse, along with contemporary breakfast items and food.

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In a broader sense, his collage is a commentary on American consumerism (note the White Star tuna can), whether in the form of celebrities selling themselves or corporations selling products.

Richard Hamilton

Another of the group of pop art artists from across the sea, Richard Hamilton is an early pioneer of this genre. Born in London in 1922, his artworks from the 1950s are widely regarded as helping usher in pop art's widespread appeal during the next decade, particularly in the U.S.

Here’s a look at some of his iconic contributions that have stood the test of time.

Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?

When you speak of iconic, you have to include this genre painting from 1956. Included as part of the This Is Tomorrow art exhibit in London, it shows the early intent of pop art and its faithful execution to its commentary on pop culture and consumerism.

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As with Paolozzi’s pop art graphic design, this collage relies heavily on clippings taken straight out of American magazines. The background depicts your quintessential, midcentury American living room, based on a picture in Ladies Home Journal. The muscleman in the composition is Irvin Koszewski, who won Mr. L.A. back in 1954. The staircase came from a Hoover’s vacuum ad, and the comic-book picture in the frame in the background comes from comic-book artist Jack Kirby’s Young Romance.

Overall, this collage is a vivid take on the Americana of the 50s.

Interior II

Interior II from 1964 is another vivid take on an interior scene. Based on a photograph Hamilton found out of the blue, it shows what an artist can do when he focuses on the meticulously arranged elements of an interior scene.

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Resembling a collage of sorts, Interior II is a mishmash of strong colors and elements. With the monochromatic picture of the woman as the focal point, it explores pop culture and advertising from the perspective of an interior designer.

Pop Art’s Influence in Graphic Design

Our examples of prominent pop art artists throughout history should give you a persuasive idea of how much of a footprint this style has left on graphic design. Techniques as basic as using everyday objects and collages served as the basis for critiques and commentary on American culture and consumerism.

The resulting artworks from this approach to design have left us with a large body of inspiration. Whether you’re a student learning art history, a creative dealing with clients, or just a lover of memorable visuals, this movement revolutionized art from the mid-20th century onwards.


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