Born in the fifties, Pop Art immersed itself into the mundane living experience completely, once and for all erasing the boundaries between high and low culture, fine art, and mass production. Yet, within this movement that took the art world by a storm, the work of Pop Art women artists was often marginalized.
Throughout the Western art history, women were often viewed through male eyes, whether as subjects or objects. With the rise of the Feminist Art Movement in the 1960s, women artists started re-defining themselves and re-narrating the history. The work of female Pop artists resembled that of their male counterparts, oscillating in style between Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, commodity cult and capitalist critique. Yet their visual language and narrative were more often militant, critical and feminist.
Neglected for decades, the work of female Pop artists is now gaining better understanding and recognition for their contributions and challenges to the movement. These pioneers were focused on shifting both the objectifying male gaze and the objectified female gaze. Working in the Pop Art aesthetics, their works were intricately linked to the rise of feminist art that explored women’s societal roles as well as their sexuality.
Featured images: Evelyne Axell's - Ice Cream (detail); Sister Mary Corita Kent Collage; Pauline Boty - The Only Blonde in the World, 1963 (detail); Marisol Sculpture.
Despite being a founder of the British Pop Art movement and the only female painter in the British wing of the movement, the work of Pauline Boty is now often marginalized. Demonstrating a joy in self-assured femininity and female sexuality, her works were often critical of the man’s world in which she lived. Creating a rebellious art and having a free-spirited lifestyle, Boty was a herald of 1970s feminism.
Featured images: Pauline Boty, via anothermag.com; Pauline Boty - The Only Blonde in the World, 1963, via tate.org.uk
A sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Los Angeles, Sister Mary Corita was an artist with an innovative approach to design and education. Her eye-popping screen prints and drawings combined corporate logos with excerpts from some of her favorite writers. Imbued with activism, her work reflected her concerns about poverty, racism, and war, and her messages of peace and social justice continue to resonate with the contemporary audience.
Featured images: Sister Mary Corita Kent, via corita.org; Sister Mary Corita Kent - In that they may have life, 1964, via npr.com.
One of the first European artists to embrace pop art, Evelyne Axell focused on a proto-feminist depiction of the emancipation of woman’s sexuality. After discovering plastic materials, she developed her signature technique of cutting female silhouettes into translucent plastic sheets and enamel painting. Her work was provocative and imbued with desire and eroticism. Depicting the female body and glorifying female sexuality and fantasies, she tackled the deep changes occurring within an increasingly disputed, gendered, social order.
Featured images: Evelyne Axell, via pinterest.com; Evelyne Axell's - Ice Cream, via independent.co.uk.
For more than five decades, Rosalyn Drexler made politically electric Pop compositions that incorporated collaged figures from movie posters and newspaper images. Characterized by the noir aesthetics, her work featured isolated figures against a bright monochromatic ground suggested stage sets and film stills. Her collages and large-format paintings open the category of Pop art to technology and politics in a rather contemporary way, crossing hard-edge painting with depictions of sex, violence, race and gender role-playing in film and media.
Featured images: Rosalyn Drexler, via pinterest.com; Rosalyn Drexler - Men and Machines I, 1965, via hyperallergic.com
Arguably one of the most underestimated sculptors to emerge in the 1960s New York, Marisol Escobar created pieces that represented a range of American life, from popes and presidents to her own family. Described by Andy Warhol as “the first girl artist with glamor”, Marisol uniquely blended Pop and Folk Art with her playful, large-scale wooden pieces crafted into boxy totems. Her painted and minimally carved wooden figures were often accompanied by found objects like shoes and doors, showing her unique sense of humor. Though simple-looking, her sculptures were expertly made.
Featured images: Marisol, via hyperallergic.com; Marisol Sculptures, via ompomhappy.com
A master of appropriation, Elaine Sturtevant often recreated works by iconic 20th-century artists in her exploration of authenticity, artistic celebrity, and the creative process. Going by her last name, Sturtevant described her approach as “repetition”. Making deliberately inexact copies of other artists, she recreated pieces by emblematic figures from the annals of contemporary art such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Claes Oldenburg and Marcel Duchamp. Criticized, dismissed and celebrated at the same time, Sturtevant was, in essence, a composer writing variations on predecessors’ themes.
Featured images: Elaine Sturtevant; Elaine Sturtevant - Painting at High Voltage, 1969
Closely aligned with the Pop art and Photorealist movements, Idelle Weber is best known for her silhouette paintings resembling the visual language of advertisements. Her version of Pop Art in the 1960s and early 1970s was cool, crisp and dark, depicting alone-in-a-crowd urban figures placed against checkerboard and paisley-patterned grounds. Her subjects ranged from businessmen and secretaries to travelers engaged in everyday activities, depicted to suggest standardization and lack of individuality.
Featured images: Idelle Weber, moorewomenartists.com; Idelle Weber - Press Type Firm, 1965
One of the most significant female Pop artists in the 1960s New York milieu, Marjorie Strider created three-dimensional paintings and soft-sculpture installations that place the techniques of Minimalism within Pop Art. Using some of the most iconic motifs of Pop Art, but from a distinctly female perspective of exuberant counter-appropriation, Strider slyly subverted her male counterparts’ takes on consumerism and the female form. Her provocative relief painting titled Bikini Nudes, the lascivious Girl or the eroticized Giant Vegetable are some of the most memorable works of the Pop Art era.
Featured images: Marjorie Strider, via pinterest.com; Marjorie Strider - Bond Girl
After turning away from European abstraction and the Viennese avant-garde art scene, Kiki Kogelnik continued her career in Santa Monica, and soon after, New York. Drawing her palette and materials from Pop Art, Kiki Kogelnik found inspiration in emerging technologies such as rockets and space travel, as opposed to movement’s traditionally commercial subject matter. Imbued with a unique sense of humor, her pieces were a feminist take on a male-dominated art scene. Her main focus was exploring the human body and the construction of the self within the booming technological advances.
Featured images: Kiki Kogelnik, via pinterest.com; Kiki Kogelnik - City Girl, 1972
The artist Dorothy Grebenak worked almost exclusively in the medium of hooked rugs. She used motifs such as US currency, liquor labels, detergent boxes, rotary dials, and life-sized manhole covers to create her pieces that fused modern pop-culture with America’s pastoral history. She also made rugs with abstract meander designs, simple mazes of block colors. Blurring the lines between fine, folk and decorative arts, her work challenged perceptions of crafts and fine art.
Featured images: Dorothy Grebenak; Dorothy Grebenak - Hall of Fame (Babe Ruth Baseball Cards), 1964. All images used for illustrative purposes only.