Pop art is undoubtedly one of the most important art movements of the 20th century. Continuing on the ideas of Dada, lampooning the seriousness of "high art" and some of the more self-absorbed conceptual, avant-garde movements of the time, it arose in the 1950's and for about two decades brought the common, the trivial, the popular and the mass-marketed onto museum walls but also itself expanded from the art world into the consciousness of the general (not necessarily art-loving) public. Conscious of its own shortcomings and flaws, often self-parodying, it was perhaps a bit deeper than most gave it credit for. Poster, as an art form, seems like an ideal vehicle for Pop art and indeed it was one of the mediums in which the artists belonging to the movement excelled. In recent years, posters have become the new hot commodity, both for the beginner and the experienced collector.
Featured image: David Byrd - Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fillmore East Concert, promotional poster, 1968 (detail) ; Rene Mederos - Vietnamese Soldier, limited edition poster, 1969 (detail) ; Robert Indiana - The Santa Fe Opera, 20th Season, promotional poster, 1976 (detail) ; Richard Lindner - Fun City NYC, promo image for Shorewood Publishers Inc, 1969 (detail)
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film Querelle is an adaptation of Jean Genet's novel of the same name. Following a young sailor's sexual escapades in a French port, the subversive story has a more than obvious gay theme. The undesputed master of Pop art, Andy Warhol spread his creative forces across the wide array of media, including photography, film-making, canvas and silk-screen prints, and obviously posters. It is thus only fitting that he should hold the first place on this list with his promotional image for this cult underground film. Using a polaroid of two young men as a starting point for his silk-screen print, he idealised their features and made the tongue of one of them the focal point of the composition.
Featured images: Andy Warhol - Querelle, limited edition poster print, 1982
Often described as a neo-dadaist, American artist Jasper Johns' work is by most classified as Pop art (with a hint of Americana), mainly because of his extensive use of classical iconography and lack of confrontational abrasiveness characteristic of Dada and its offshots. He may only be second to Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein in the pantheon of Pop art. A variation on his most recognizable piece, Flag (1955-6) which he painted after having a dream of the American flag, served as an inspiration for his poster for the Whitney Museum's 50th Anniversary, almost quarter of a century later, making it instantly iconic.
Featured images: Jasper Johns - Poster for the Whitney Museum's 50th Anniversary, limited edition print, 1979
Initially having profound respect for the Abstract expressionists, Tom Wesselmann instead became a seminal figure of the American Pop art movement. Influenced by Matisse's achievements in terms of color, he created this poster for Alan Berg's opera Lulu in 1984. The title character seduces all men that cross her path, breaking hearts like a true femme fatale, naturally leading to a tragic end. Wesselmann's image with its almost vintage print feel, co-published by the Metropolitan Opera and Circle Gallery, New York, splendidly captures the alluring yet menacing character of the doomed protagonist presented in a pop idiom.
Featured image: Tom Wesselmann - Lulu, limited edition poster, 1984
German-American artist who had hoped to become a concert pianist in his youth, Richard Lindner moved to the US in the late 1940's and soon became one of the most important figures of the NYC booming design and art scene. His two-decade-long artistic co-operation with Shorewood Publishers, Inc. gave birth to countless book illustrations as well as posters and other promotional material. His amazons and heroines, robot-like figures, harlequins and self-styled heroes, pervaded by a sort of Futurism, full of strange eroticism and urban energy, offer a panorama of the 1960's and 70's on the East Coast.
Featured image: Richard Lindner - Fun City NYC, limited edition poster, 1969
"To be creative is to be accepting, but it's also to be harsh on one's self. You just don't paint colors for the silliness of it all." Starting as a billboard painter, this determined artist soon started deftly applying his sign-painting techniques to large-scale paintings he was to start producing in 1960. Five years later, he hit it big with a massive, room-scale painting called F-111. The same year, 1965 that is, James Rosenquist created this poster based on F-111 for the Castelli Gallery, riding on the tidal wave that the initial work made through the art world.
Featured images: James Rosenquist - F-111, Castelli Gallery Poster, limited edition print, 1965
"There are more signs than trees in America. There are more signs than leaves. So I think of myself as a painter of American landscape." once quipped Robert Indiana. The Santa Fe Opera has definitely played a prominent role in the American cultural landscape. In 1976, it celebrated its 20th season and Indiana was comissioned to create a poster to comemorate the ocassion. Published by List Art posters, it is a work typical of this artist whose fame rests on the now omnipresent LOVE paintings, sculptures and prints.
Featured images: Robert Indiana - The Santa Fe Opera, 20th Season, limited edition poster, 1976
A prominent Cuban poster artist and graphic designer, Rene Mederos was a representative of a wave of artists who were as much Pop art as communist propaganda. In 1969, he was assigned by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation to travel to Vietnam and paint scenes of the war. Urging solidarity with the people of Vietnam, his paintings and posters gained tremendous popularity in Cuba, but also in the Unitet States among the more liberal parts of the public that remained strongly anti-war. Mederos' firmly contoured surfaces with their ebullience of patterns derived from nature almost seem to hark back to glory days of Art nouveau.
Featured image: Rene Mederos - Vietnamese Soldier, limited edition poster, Cuba, 1969
After showing his portfolio to the then manager of the Fantasy Unlimited collective, David Byrd was hired on the spot. An immensly talented illustrator, between 1968 and 1973 he created a series of posters for such acts as the Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Traffic, Ravi Shankar, and Jimi Hendrix. For the latter he did a series of particularly psychedelic-looking images which encapsulated the experimental musical tendencies of the time and Jimi's inimitable guitar-playing style. A poster for his Fillmore East Concert from 1968 is argubly the most striking of the lot.
Featured images: David Byrd - Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fillmore East Concert, promotional poster, 1968
A member of the more recent crop of artists who have emerged from the street art scene, Shepard Fairey has proven a prolific creator of posters. Iconic images such as his Obama - Hope have become instant collectors' items. A master of guerrilla graffiti as well as commercial art, he is a savy designer of promotional material, such as the somewhat retro poster for Walk the Line - the 2005 American musical-biographical drama film based on the early life and career of country music legend Johnny Cash. His instantly recognizable style brings Pop art to the 21st century.
Featured images: Shepard Fairey - Walk the Line, promotional poster, 2005
Another iconic image from the late 60's era, this time by Bonnie MacLean. She was the wife of the all-powerful promoter Bill Graham to whom Fantasy Unlimited was but another creative and business outlet. This poster from 1967 shows an impressive list of musical acts - Yardbirds, The Doors, James Cotton Blues Bands, and Richie Havens - and shows the creative epicenter that New York was at the time. MacLean created some of her most memorable work at the time, a lot of the finest pieces actually having been produced in 1967. Somewhat reminescent of the sinous lines of the 1910's, her compositions are still very much of their epoch.
Featured images: Bonnie MacLean - The Yardbirds at the Fillmore Auditorium, promotional poster, 1967