Art That Continues to 'Pop'! the Iconic Genre Continues to Reflect the Mass Culture around Us

Article excerpt

Open bottles of expensive port and a succulent, half-eaten slice of chocolate cake sit almost forgotten next to a bowl of cereal and a glass bottle of milk. A designer sandal is tipped over next to a carton of juicy strawberries, and a pearl necklace is carelessly tossed onto a bright box of Cheerios popping out like a yield sign.

Artist Amy Nelder's "A Progression of Grand Cru Classe" (see painting on page 18) mashes the high-class world of expensive wine and designer decadence with everyday items like strawberries and Cheerios. Working in what she calls a "pop trompe l'oeil" style, much of Nelder's work depicts odd pairings like these that viewers find funny and provocative.

"What I'd like them to ask themselves is, Do you think this would also taste good?'" Nelder says.

Quirky little secrets like pairing a 40-year-old port with a bowl of breakfast cereal are things people would never share with others, and Nelder wants people to question those urges to conceal.

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"I'm using the subject matter in my paintings to try to make people think about how they're living. Why do they live their lives the way that they do? Is there a way that they can be freer?" Nelder says. "And I also want them to laugh about it."

It seems like a tall order for a box of breakfast cereal, but for Nelder and other pop artists, it's items like Cheerios, a multicolored horse, a dark and twisted carousel and a Playboy Bunny that reflect pop culture back to viewers in new ways.

Since its inception, pop art has gained momentum as pop culture has become more invasive. Modern pop art takes its cues from reality television, comic books, graffiti and more. The results are a mix of serious and light hearted, dark and uplifting, and the common link is pop culture that feeds the artists.

The American pop art movement began in the late 1950s. In a period of heightened consumerism and pervasive pop culture, artists like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschen-berg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol took everyday items and threw them back in the faces of the very people who interacted with them every day, giving them new meaning.

Warhol's now iconic painting of a Campbell's soup can, Lichtenstein's comic strip inspired works and hundreds of pop pieces by the likes of Peter Max, LeRoy Neiman and others turned the ordinary and everyday into something worthy of art, or as Nelder says, made them into heroes.

"Part of the making of a hero is the ob-jectification of something," Nelder says. "To objectify is to make it into something more specific and personal to the viewer. The viewer projects their experience, and that experience makes the object important or not."

Sharla Throckmorton-McDowell owns POP Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., with her husband Michael McDowell. They focus on current trends in pop art, particularly pop modernism, including the New Brow and pop surrealist movements.

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A large portion of work at POP Gallery falls into the New Brow movement. Often darker, New Brow art draws inspiration from underground comics, tattoos and body art, album cover art, illustration and animation.

"One of the things that is indicative of this whole generation is when you look at the people who are looking for change and rebirth, the people who stand up in our society for what we believe in, you're looking at a lot of young people," Throckmorton-McDowell says. "Those are the people behind the New Brow movement."

Artists shown at POP Gallery like Carrie Ann Baade mix inspiration from both pop culture and ancient mythology. Baade's pieces create a visual collage exploring the complexity of the human condition, Throckmorton-McDowell says. In one piece, "Our Lady of Perpetual Indulgence," (see page 19) Baade places an unapologetic nude woman in a bath filled with pink elephants and alcohol.

"Pop surrealism and New Brow art is such a meld of technology," Throckmorton-McDowell says. …