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The Enduring Legacy of Pop Art

The twentieth-century has seen a quick succession of innovative art movements, more so than any other time period in the history of art. The Pop art aesthetic has enjoyed an enduring legacy, and artists and designers today still draw inspiration from the movement that rose to prominence in the early 1960s. Whether interpreted as a capitulation and homage to capitalism, or a critique of consumer-driven culture, the aesthetic has prevailed, and popular culture continues to be a source of inspiration for art and design today.

Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, 1956, collage 

Pop Art began in the mid-1950s in the United Kingdom, with artists such as Richard Hamilton and Eduardo Paolozzi appropriating from advertising to create works of art that satirized the aesthetic of mass-produced media, such as the newspapers and lifestyle magazines that were beginning to dominate everyday life in the postwar period. 

Andy Warhol, Brillo Soap Pads Box, 1964, silkscreen ink and house paint on plywood 

In the United States, Andy Warhol began to create artworks using mundane consumer products as the subject, such as Campbell’s soup cans and Brillo boxes. He lifted visual imagery familiar to the general public through commodities and advertising and re-contextualized it as art. Roy Lichtenstein created large scale works based on comics, drawing attention to commercial printing techniques by using dots of various sizes and colours to mimic the printed page.

Roy Lichtenstein, Explosion, 1965-6, lithograph on paper 

Jasper Johns also took images and symbols that were prosaic and familiar and transformed them into artworks using collage and paint. As discussed in a previous blog post, Johns used these functional symbols to question the line between object and artwork. To the same end, Johns created paintings using numbers, questioning their purpose as he harnessed them for purely aesthetic aims. 

Jasper Johns, 0 through 9, 1961, oil on canvas 

The original Pop art icons have become so ingrained in popular culture that they themselves are subject to appropriation and parody. For iconic horror actor Bruce Campbell’s birthday, Sci Fi Wire created a series of Campbell Soup can labels using the titles of his films as the flavour for the soup. 

Sci Fi Wire, Bruce Campbell’s Soup, 2010 

Other artists use popular consumer product logos for different reasons. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei famously painted a jar from the Han dynasty with a Coca Cola logo, an audacious gesture that points to contemporary China’s conflict between the preservation of ancient culture and the infiltration of Western consumerism. The work conflates China’s difficult past’s destruction of ancient cultural artefacts during the Cultural Revolution with the present’s equivocal turn towards global consumerism that has both positive and negative implications.

Ai Weiwei, Han Jar Overpainted with Coca-Cola Logo, 1995, earthenware and paint 

Kestin Cornwall continues the pop art tradition, by using the image of popular figures, such as Che Guevara and Kate Middleton, and iconic symbols, such as the flags of the United Kingdom and the United States. Cornwall puts his own unique spin on his works, creating contemporary pop art for the Twitter generation.

Kestin Cornwall, Che Guevara Susi Generis (1967), ink and acrylic on wood panel

Some of Kestin Cornwall’s work available at the ICONIC exhibition:

Small Carpe Diem block editions:

Flag: Blue, Red and White:

ICONIC exhibition is open until August 16.

Che Guevara: Susi Generis (1967) by Kestin Cornwall. On display until August 16th! Come check it out!

Che Guevara: Susi Generis (1967) by Kestin Cornwall. On display until August 16th! Come check it out!

Royal Portraits

The British Royal Family, like other such dignitaries, has been the subject of portraits stretching back centuries. In the pre-photography era, a painted portrait was the only means to preserve one’s likeness for future generations to admire one’s beauty and opulence. When marveling at these portraits, one should bear in mind the onus on the painter to depict the Royal in a flattering light; one must not displease one’s patron, lest one be punished for it.

One of the most famous royal portraits is Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1537 portrait of Henry VIII, decked out in his illustrious attire, albeit minus the accoutrements denoting his royal status, such as crown and scepter. Instead, he is poised with fearlessness and self-confidence, conveying his power through his stance and domineering gaze. The painting also depicts Henry as more formidable than he actually was; his legs were, in fact, much shorter, and he appears much younger and healthier than his 46 years. Although the painting is now lost, it survives in many copies, and is still of the most recognizable portraits of the early modern period.

After Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Henry VIII, c. 1537-1562, oil on canvas, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 

Of course, there are also the unofficial portraits, when artists decide to create an image of the royals without their commission or consent. Andy Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II allows her majesty to retain her dignity while being given a Pop art makeover – Warhol’s source material was in fact the queen’s official Silver Jubilee photograph, released for the momentous occasion in 1977. Despite their unofficial status, the works were acquired by the Queen for the Royal Collection in 2012

Andy Warhol, Reigning Queens: Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, 1985, screenprints in colours with ‘diamond dust’, on Lenox Museum Board, 100.0 x 80.0 cm

Other portraits range from the unflattering to the downright weird; let’s look at the latter first. When the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce commissioned Stuart Pearson Wright to paint a portrait of their president, Prince Phillip (also known as The Queen’s Husband, or the Duke of Edinburgh to use his official title), you can bet they weren’t expecting a bare-chested Phillip with a sprig of cress sprouting from his finger tip. The prince rejected the portrait before the additions of the bluebottle and green finger; he reportedly exclaimed “godzooks!” upon seeing it, and when asked by the artist if he’d captured a likeness, retorted “I bloody well hope not!” A head and shoulders version was created for the Society, although supposedly the Prince has never seen it. The artist completed the original and had his own unveiling a year later. 

Stuart Pearson Wright , Homo sapiens, Lepidium sativum and Calliphora vomitoria, 2004 

And now for the most recent Royal portrait to cause a stir; Paul Emsley’s official portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. The portrait, which avoided the pomp and ceremony that usually dominates Royal portraits, divided opinion among art professionals. The naturalness of the work earned praise from Royal portrait artist Richard Stone, who praised its “lovely informality” and “warmth.” Others, however, were less generous in their critiques of the work. Art critic Waldemar Januszczak said he was “disappointed,” while other went a lot further in their criticism of the artwork. British Art Journal editor Robin Simon declared it “rotten” and an “out and out disgrace” and art critic Brian Sewell described it as “sickening.” American art critic Jerry Saltz also threw his tuppence-worth in with an article in which he proclaimed the work was “unqualified outright drivel.” While the Duchess was reportedly delighted with the portrait and declared that it was “just amazing,” as a former art history student, one can only hope her Royal Highness was merely being polite. The portrait was also subject to a number of unflattering photoshop makeovers in the wake of its unveiling. 

Paul Emsley, Portrait of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, 2012, National Portrait Gallery, London

Kestin Cornwall offers contemporary pop art interpretations of the Duchess of Cambridge, which thankfully avoid the lackluster, dowdy aesthetic of her official portrait. Cornwall juxtaposes explosions of colour with the neutral tones of the Duchess’s face, and in some playfully adds a Mickey House helmet to her head. His tongue-in-cheek works also circumvent the grandeur of official portraits, while his titles play on the privileged position held by members of the Royal family. Next time the Royals are looking for a portrait artist, perhaps they should look him up…. 

Kestin Cornwall, Golden Platter,2013, mixed media on wood panel, 48 X 36 IN

Kestin Cornwall, Let Them Eat Cake (#1), 2013, ink, paper and acrylic on wood, 42 X 36 IN

Appropriation in Art

Artists do not create in a vacuum, but are influenced by their predecessors and peers whose work inspires, and informs, their own practice. Art movements progress as artists respond to work by other artists, adopting certain traits, or using an idea as a launchpad from which they develop their own work further. Influence, however, is a very different kettle of fish to appropriation. When an artist appropriates a work by another artist, (s)he makes direct use of the preceding artist’s work or an image that already exists in the public domain. Appropriation goes beyond mere copying; appropriation is often used as a subversive or political weapon to comment on social problems or to critique the very nature of art institutions which place emphasis on authenticity, authorship, and the hand of the artist. Conversely, it can also pay homage to another artist’s work and re-contextualize it for a contemporary generation.

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919

Marcel Duchamp, arguably the most influential artist of the twentieth-century, created the conceptual ‘readymade’ artwork fifty years before the advent of the Conceptualism as an art historical movement. The readymade anticipates the idea of appropriating another artist’s work, except rather than an actual artwork, the readymade is an object from everyday life that is re-contextualized as an art object. Duchamp also created ‘assisted readymade,’ which comprised a found object or objects that he then augmented or adapted in some way. A prime example is L.H.O.O.Q., a reproduction postcard of the Mona Lisa with a moustache drawn on her face. This playful intervention was read by some as a subversion of the art historical canon. The reproduction itself is a challenge to the original artwork, as through reproduction the artwork loses what critical theorist Walter Benjamin termed its “aura,” its uniqueness in space and time. Duchamp takes the negation even further, subverting the original with an iconoclastic gesture.

Richard Prince, Untitled (cowboy), 1989, chromogenic print; 50 x 70 in.

Original Marlboro advert

Prince is quoted as saying, “I started taking pictures of the cowboys. You don’t see them out in public anymore—you can’t ride down a highway and see them on a billboard. But at Time Life, I was working with seven or eight magazines, and Marlboro had ads in almost all of them. Every week, I’d see one and be like, ‘Oh, that’s mine. Thank you.’ It’s sort of like beachcombing.” Artists are often drawn to subject matter representative of their time, and by rephotographing the Marlboro ads, Prince preserves a particular moment when advertising had become a part of everyday life. Following in the tradition of Pop Art, Prince takes a subject directly from the popular media and appropriates it, turning it into a work of art. The aesthetics of advertising become the aesthetic of fine art.

Sherrie Levine, After Walker Evans: 4, 1981, gelatin silver print, 12.8 x 9.8 cm

Walker Evans, Albama Tennant Farmer, 1936, gelatin silver print, 20.9 x 14.4 cm

Sherrie Levine is also renowned for harnessing the strategy of appropriation in her work, this time with a slightly more political agenda. She recreates and rephotographs the work of canonical male artists, such as Walker Evans and Edward Weston, as a comment on the place of the woman artist in the art world. By recuperating the work of male artists and designating a new, female authorship, Levine undermines the patriarchy of the art historical canon, which has traditionally been white and male. She also recreated Duchamp’s infamous Fountain piece; the original Duchamp has been lost, but it was an ordinary urinal signed “R. Mutt” submitted by Duchamp to the exhibition Society of Independent Artists. While Duchamp’s work was an actual piece of plumbing hardware, Levine’s work is cast in a semi-precious metal reserved for fine art sculptures. It plays into notions of worth as well as authorship, and questions the value put on various works of art.

Sherrie Levine,Fountain (Buddha), 1996,bronze

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917 (1964 replica), porcelain

The 5STooGES work also makes use of appropriation. An artist collective, they cull their source material for THE COLLECTOR’s extensive collection of original artworks. Using a collaborative technique, the members create prints from the original artwork and rework them using graffiti and street art aesthetic. In doing so, they take works from bygone eras and contemporize them and make them relevant to today’s fast-paced culture. For example, Beautiful Dirty Rich appropriates a painting of Wallace Simpson, the divorced woman for whom Kind Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry. She then became the Duchess of Windsor. A classic subject is recontextualized for a contemporary generation by using the graffiti technique of stenciling.

The 5 STooGES, Beautiful Dirty Rich

A guest admires Kestin Cornwall’s Carpe Diem (Memento Morri) during the opening reception of ICONIC at Navillus Gallery (July 10th 2014).

A guest admires Kestin Cornwall’s Carpe Diem (Memento Morri) during the opening reception of ICONIC at Navillus Gallery (July 10th 2014).

ICONIC Opening Reception

We had an amazing opening reception yesterday evening at Navillus! Lots of fantastic art, people, and Steamwhistle!The exhibition features art by Kestin Cornwall, Francoise Nielly, and The 5 STooGES.

image(Gallery manager Katie Robertson & artist Kestin Cornwall)

The exhibition was sponsored by Steamwhistle, who provided the refreshments.

image(Kate Russell holds some delicious Steamwhistle)

ICONIC brings together three art-makers who humorously create contemporary Pop Art that is indebted to street art. Their work drew quite the crowd.

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image(Artists Leanne Shea Rhem & Zac Kenny)

image(Wayne Peters & artist Diane Hack)

image(Genevie Cornwall, Ramneek G., and Joshua McGuire)

imageThank you to all who attended! It was a great night!

The American Flag in Art

The American flag is iconic. Perhaps no other country’s flag has been so appropriated and, thus, so symbolic. It is an image that has been incorporated in work throughout art history as a symbol of patriotic triumph, revolution, design and rebellion; it has also been used to question art, identity, authority and what is considered acceptable.

imageEmanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware, 1851

Emanuel Leutze’s depiction of George Washington’s attack on the Hessians at Trenton in 1776 was conceived to encourage Europe’s liberal reformers through the example of the American Revolution. Washington is depicted championing his crew across the Delaware River. The addition of the American flag, dramatically lit and blowing in the wind, stands as a symbol of patriotism, revolution and victory.

Although Leutze’s painting enforces a sense of pride in American identity, perhaps the most intriguing depictions of the American Flag were created when artists began to question its meaning and purpose and subvert traditional depictions of patriotism.

imageJasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55

Jasper Johns’ infamous “Flag” was created after he had a dream about the American flag. Johns brought in to focus the design and pattern of such classical iconography as flags, maps, targets, letters and numbers: entities that have traditionally been regarded for their functionality, rather than their aesthetic properties. ”Flag” utilized symbolism to challenge what is considered art and sparked the ever-important question posed by a critic of the time: “Is this a flag or a painting?”

imageDread Scott, What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, 1989

Dread Scott’s installation entitled “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” asked the viewer to write their thoughts on the title question in a blank book. In order to access the book, however, the viewer would be forced to walk across a flag on the ground and view a photograph that hung above of South Korean students burning the American flag and holding signs that said “Yankee, Go Home.” Here, Scott is challenging the sense of national pride by placing an American flag on the ground, rather than elevating it, and confronting the viewer with an example of America’s complicated political and social history.

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Kestin Cornwall, Flag: Blue, Red & White, 2012

Following in the tradition is Kestin Cornwall. Cornwall’s depiction shows an American flag that is fragmented and vandalized by drips of decadent gold paint. Responding to the use of the flag as a cultural and artistic icon, Kestin creates a dialogue with his artistic predecessors.

Kestin’s “Flag: Blue, Red & White” will be on exhibit at Navillus Gallery from 10 July - 16 August.

Navillus Gallery proudly presents ICONIC, a group exhibition featuring the work of Toronto-based artist, Kestin Cornwall, and collaborative art-making team, the 5 STooGES.
Toronto- 10th July - 16th August.

Navillus Gallery proudly presents ICONIC, a group exhibition featuring the work of Toronto-based artist, Kestin Cornwall, and collaborative art-making team, the 5 STooGES.

Toronto- 10th July - 16th August.