Pop art: A study of the disruptive art that changed everything

7 minutes
Written by: Marina López

It’s 1950 and life is all about buying and selling on a massive scale. The world is about to witness a change in the artistic paradigm, but it doesn’t know it yet. This is how pop art is born, as a revulsive. As a social critique of the reality of the moment. 

The shadow of this new current is long and will spread across the rest of the globe until 1980: the United States, Europe, Asia, and even Oceania. Quite the journey!

You may be thinking: this is all well and good, but 38567548 million posts have already been written about pop art, there’s a copy of ‘Drowning Girl’ hanging in the bar on the corner, and ‘Campbell’s Soup Cans’ are everywhere. 

And to that I say that if you want to broaden your knowledge of pop artists to extend beyond Andy Warhol, to know what ‘hamparte’ is, and to discover the ins and outs of this contemporary trend, you should stay right here.

The women that changed pop art

Andy Warhol and his paintings of different celebrities, Roy Lichtenstein and his large-scale interpretations of his comics, Keith Haring and his graffiti… Apart from being the most widely celebrated pop artists, they all had something else in common: they were men.

Historically, women have been made invisible in everything beyond the boundaries of the home and maternal or domestic service. That which goes unnamed does not exist. This has been the case for as long as the world has existed, and in this new wave it was not going to be any different. 

So, we’d like to tell you the stories of 4 women who made their mark in pop art and that you may not have heard of.

Corita Kent

Her name was ‘Sister Corita’ and no, she wasn’t Whoopy Goldberg’s buddy in ‘Sister Act’, nor did she belong to any prolific ‘80s Girl Band. Corita Kent (United States, 1918-1986) was an activist, artist, woman, and (hold on, here comes the definitive plot point) nun.

She felt ‘the Calling’ in full force when she turned 18 and entered a Roman Catholic community in Los Angeles, where she was able to combine her studies in design and art history with religious obligations. 

In the early ’50s, she came upon silkscreen printing; and the rest is history. With this technique, sister Corita established a language to communicate what she felt inside, combining it with paper, advertising, fabrics, packaging, collage, vibrant colors, freehand writing, histrionic typography, and much more. 

‘Love’, Corita Kent

Her style is also very much marked by imagery around mass culture, consumerism, and, of course, spirituality. Slogans and biblical quotes went hand in hand in her creations and her work was always sprinkled with social justice. 

After renouncing her vows in 1968, she ended up appearing in magazines like Life, Newsweek, and Time and renowned artists like Saul Bass and Alfred Hitchcock acknowledged, over the years, that Kent’s work had inspired them greatly in their creations. 

Rosalyn Drexler 

Screenwriter, playwright, artist, former professional wrestler… trying to classify a figure like Rosalyn Drexler (United States, 1926) within a movement is like trying to stop Dua Lipa from releasing hit songs: mission impossible. A box of crayons, a poster, and several visits to contemporary art museums were enough for her to carve out a niche for herself in painting. 

‘I shot the flag’, Rosalyn Drexler

In 1961 she became interested in pop art. She devoured magazines and newspapers and then painted over them with bright, saturated colors. Her work was a contemporary fantasy; a brutal expression of the reality of the moment. A critique against violence towards women, racism, and social alienation. 

Although she always denied that her work had a political background and exhibited in major pop art galleries in the 1960s, she did not get the same recognition as her male colleagues. Curious fact: she is also the author of the novelization of the film ‘Rocky’, under the pseudonym Julia Sorel.

Marisol Escobar

She was labeled ‘Andy Warhol’s friend’, but she was much, much more than that. Although today the name Marisol Escobar (France, 1930- 2016) has fallen into oblivion, she was one of the most respected artists in the New York of the ‘70s, thanks to her artistry and not her friendship skills. 

Marisol Escobar conducted a fierce critique of capitalism throughout her work and, although her strokes, compositions, and figures transcend any particular trend, she is known as one of the most prolific faces of pop art.

‘The Family’, Marisol Escobar

She was born in Paris, grew up in Caracas, and became an independent artist in New York at the age of 20. When she was only 11, La Escobar witnessed her mother’s suicide, and then… she found art. She adopted it as an act of rebellion, an escape route, a refuge that kept her from sadness and kept her mind active. 

Painting, composition, ceramics… she did it all, although, in the mid-’50s she discovered that her heart belonged to architecture. 

The most notable fruits of her work came in the early 1960s, when she exhibited her work ‘From France’ alongside artists such as Picasso and Duchamp in the exhibition The Art of Assemblage at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).

Evelyne Axel

Glamour, feminine sexuality, and disruption. If we had to describe the work of Evelyne Axel (Belgium, 1935-1972) in 3 terms, these would be the ones we’d choose, without a doubt. Her career in the art world began behind the scenes: after studying ceramics at the Art School of Namur, she switched to drama in 1954. 

In 1964 Evelyne took a 180-degree turn in her career, painting knocked at her door, and she decided to learn from the best surrealist: René Magritte, who helped her to improve a technique that would be present in much of her work: oil painting.

‘Ice Cream’, Evelyn Axel

Axel’s work was groundbreaking for its time: voluptuous women, powerful girls, works based on homoeroticism, glitter everywhere, embossment, huge posters… She even developed a new pictorial technique to represent female sexuality: ‘the age of plastic’, which was based on using plastic sheets in her work. 

Her art was short-lived, due to her untimely death in a car accident in 1972 (when she was only 37 years old). Two years before her death she painted ‘Le Peintre’, considered the first painting in which a woman paints herself naked and as an artist. 

Interesting fact: in 2016 the Philadelphia Museum of Art censored Evelyn’s work you see above for being ‘too suggestive’. 

Pop art or hamparte: The eternal dilemma

‘What is hamparte?’ I hear you ask. Well, it’s an artistic trend that comes from the Spanish words ‘hampa’ (group of thugs)and ‘arte’ (art). It is a neologism coined by Spanish YouTuber Antonio García Villarán, to redefine some works that are characterized by coming from what he refers to as the ‘art of not having talent’.

Among the trends with which Hamparte can be confused are some of the most irreverent and, why not say it, difficult to understand: abstract art, surrealism, and yes, pop art.

The five commandments of Hamparte

According to Villarán, here’s how to distinguish a work of hamparte from a work of art:

  • Is it mass-produced? Can it be found on the common market and is it presented as a work of art? It’s hamparte.
  • It is an object that has become a work of art by the mere fact that it’s been exhibited in a museum? Well, it’s hamparte.
  • You might be surprised by this one, but if it’s full of colors and hackneyed ideas and you don’t need any kind of talent to create it… Yep, it’s hamparte. 
  • If the work is based solely on a philosophical text that has nothing to do with the work itself…  Whiffs of hamparte.
  • Attribution of non-existent values to objects sold in the art world and exorbitant prices? You guessed it. 

Who is your favorite pop artist? How many hamparte works can you think of? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Marina López
Marina López
Writing works as a fight against chaos. Virginie Despentes
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