Pop art originated in the 1950s and 60s with the work of a group of artists who deemed the visual products of consumerist mass culture as a valid source of artistic inspiration. The visual landscape of billboards and other signage as well as comics and product packaging are, after all, the visual landscape in which most of us dwell in the urbanized (or suburbanized) civilization of these United States.
Giants like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg emerged and made pop art (the name derives from “popular culture”) into a counterpoint to the painterly and intellectualized abstract expressionism of the New York school that had come to dominate the American art world in the post war period.
The popularity of pop art is attested by its strong influence on artists working today. The Gallery at Tacoma Community College (TCC) is currently showing “Pop Art,” a show of mostly local artists whose work either engages with the visual detritus of popular culture or which makes reference to the grand pioneers of pop.
The most obvious examples of those who pay homage to pop masters past are Karin Williams’ “Trashing Pop” in which a Warhol-like soup can becomes a trash can for art supplies and Lavonne Hoivik’s “Read the Label” in which a bronze creature emerges from a Campbell’s Soup can in a series of sculptures. Other nods to Warhol’s style are given by Gordon Aleshire whose “The Dahlia Bunch” is a series of digitized photos of dahlias presented in a grid. Wendy Pope’s “Two Zoeys,” meanwhile is a double image painting of a little girl broken down into color patches in a manner like that of Warhol in some of his work. Josh Casey’s lovingly rendered oil paintings of product packages of past decades also recall the work of Warhol.
Sasha Erickson’s “Man with Gun,” a stylized painting of Lee Marvin from a 60s movie, is somewhat reminiscent of Lichtenstein’s comic strip blow-ups. Kendall Reid’s collage-in-a-cigar-box called “Jane and Emmet in Florida” makes use of the materials (comic strips, postcards, advertisements and photographs) of mass culture itself in an assemblage that recalls the work of Rauschenberg and Johns.
Such use of the disposable stuff of mass culture as an art medium goes back to the Dadaists (finding full flower in the work of Kurt Schwitters) but was taken up again by pop artists. Some in the TCC show use this same technique. Karen Benveniste, in “Life’s Instructions” uses fragments of police tape, tickets, and tags that say “do not remove” to construct a foreboding composition. Jeanette Otis’ “A Life of Their Own” is a sculpture made with old, outdated cell phones. Gail E. Kelly’s “Styroforms” makes use of discarded styrofoam to make a sculpture that calls attention to that miraculous yet environmentally troublesome substance.
True to the attitude of pop are those artists who draw their inspiration from the packaging and commercial imagery of the contemporary “artificial” landscape as their source of inspiration. Frank Dippolito, for example, combines images of industrialized food products (hot dogs, hamburgers and happy meals) with blown up verbiage of the ingredients of those products. “Quickie Lunch” juxtaposes a classical hot dog image with the spelling out of some of a hot dog’s chemical ingredients. Catherine Swanson likewise uses letter forms to play upon the “BOGO” (“buy one, get one”) mantra of mass marketeers. Bill Colby, meanwhile, combines the enigmatic yet ubiquitous bar code with compositions that incorporate misty paint effects and chunks of driftwood.
The gallery space is dominated by Bret Lyon’s “Excess,” a basketball-sized, brilliant red cherry skewered by a gigantic fork that – disconcertingly – has too many tines. Lyon also has a “painting” called “Doughnut” that is done with actual donut ingredients (candy sprinkles, chocolate, cream filling) that are still intact despite that the piece was done in 2006.
Shout-outs go to Jade Winchester whose porcelain sculpture resembles a surreal landscape with a volcano, a ribcage and several mushroom caps. Also well entrenched in the pop art tradition are works in ceramic that mimic commercial products such as Young You’s tennis shoe and Erica Kreamer’s “Tootsie Pops”.
“Pop Art” runs through May 3 at the Gallery at TCC. For more information, call (253) 460-4306.