The Road To Psychedelia: The Most American Art Genre Pt. V

Marylin Diptych Andy Warhol, 1962
Diptych of Marylin Monroe

Op Art and Pop Art

In this part of the long and winding road to Psychedelia we are going to take a look at both Pop Art and Op Art. These are two distinct and completely unique genres that are often lumped together due to their overlapping historical periods and similar names. Both these styles have very clear and direct influence on psychedelia as they were present at the same time and can be seen within psychedelia.

Pop Art

Pop art began in the 1950s as a reaction to the abstract expressionists like de Kooning and Pollack. The pop artists viewed abstract expressionist art as too cerebral and convoluted. They wanted to start a more populist art movement that would be easily understood by all people, not just the intellectuals and artsy folks in the universities. Pop art’s hallmarks include recognizable images, bright colors, irony and satire. The mediums it traversed were print making, film, sculpture and photography. As well as some mixed media and collage work.

Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too… But…
Roy Lichtenstein, 1964

Largely taking its visual contents from the consumer boom of the post war era, Pop art focused heavily on advertising images and popular characters like Mickey Mouse or movie stars. The work of Roy Lichtenstein used a form of dot painting created by comic artist Ben Day called, wait for it, Ben-Day dots. Ben-Day dots allow an artist to create a wide array of colors using only a few different inks by integrating the dots together in different spacial arrangements. It was revolutionary for newspaper comic artists and had a profound influence on the work of Lichtenstein who used the technique almost exclusively.

Soup Cans And Chelsea Girls

Campbell’s Soup Cans Series
Andy Warhol, 1962

In 1962 Andy Warhol made his famous series of Campbell’s Soup Cans. Upon their first gallery exhibition in L.A. they caused a pretty big stink among the art world. An artist in an adjacent gallery took to selling actual cans of Campbell’s soup. Calling them a cheaper alternative to Warhol’s work. The idea that art could be about something so common place, presented in such a matter of fact manner infuriated the exact art crowd that the pop artists were trying to infuriate.

Warhol became the main figurehead for the Pop Art movement and created many of its most iconic pieces. He later opened his studio The Factory in New York where he could employ friends and fellow artists to mass produce his screen prints.

Spiraling Towards An Eternal Stomachache

Op Art bloomed alongside Pop Art in the 1960s. The term Op Art was coined in a 1964 Time Magazine article titled, “OP ART: PICTURES THAT ATTACK THE EYE” Op Art is short for Optical Art and was a movement of images that create optical illusions or seem to vibrate or spin. Certain Op Art pieces can make you feel uneasy or give you a dizzy feeling. A semi contemporary example of Op Art would be the magic eye paintings of the early to mid 1990s. To this day I have never been able to see a magic eye. I just got a kind of dull headache and gave up. inevitably walking out of the Natural Wonders of my local mall disappointed and determined to try again another day.

Bridget Riley, 1964

Bridget Riley was a prolific contributor to the Op Art style. She was inspired by the post-impressionist’s use of pointillism as well as the work of Jackson Pollock. She created many black and white pieces that simulated spinning or vibrating in the eye of the viewer. Some people said her work made them feel seasick or like they were skydiving. This is the feeling I get from most Op Art in the spiral vortex like style that Riley mainly worked in.  

M.C. Escher

Probably the most famous Op Artist of all time is M.C. Esher. He was also wildly prolific and his works are the most widely known examples of Op Art. Creating over 2,400 pieces of work in his lifetime, the works of Escher are as seemingly endless as the worlds he created within his pieces. His pieces were often a Surrealist example of Op Art.

Metamorphosis I
M.C. Escher, 1937

Escher was heavily struck by the tessellations he saw in the moorish architecture of Spain while studying printmaking there. Tessellation is an unending repetition of similar images who’s edges seamlessly interlock. The different segments within tesselation lie adjecent to each subsequent segment, so they can be endlessly repeated. Upwards, downwards and sideways. This gave Escher the ability to represent his ideas of eternity and infinity in his works.

Direct Impact On Psychedelia

Both Pop Art and Op Art had significant influence on Psychedelia. This image created by the great Victor Moscoco captures many of the influences we have discussed in the previous parts of this series. Refrenceing the Pop Art of the time, a peanut man closely resembling Planter’s famous Mr. Peanut is seen dancing with Op Art like beams of color emanating from all around him. 

While there is plenty more of note going on in this Moscoco piece, I want to save the full spectrum analysis for the next part in this series. The final part! We find ourselves now at the place we have been plodding towards for 400 years. A blast of hedonic culture erupting in the mid to late 1960s on the west coast of the American mainland. An incredible time that I could never explain because I was not there. So I will leave it to one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time:

“It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run… but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world.

Whatever it meant. There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle — that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply PREVAIL. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.”

– The incredible Hunter S. Thompson, 1971

Stay tuned!

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