De La Warr - Warhol is Here

The De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill 1930's Postcard
The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea is a classic example of Modernist Archtecture. It is Britain's first example of Modernist Architecture and is still considered one the the best. It was Designed in 1933 by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and completed in December of 1935 (see De La Warr Pavilion 'A dash of foreign innovation' watch video here).

It is not needlessly decorative - its form follows its function (a design approach that is seen less and less). It metal frame work takes the structural pressure and allows the building to have huge glazed areas. This seems common place today but this was one of the first buildings in Britain to do this. You can see how it is put together - if you look at the windows you can see bolts connecting the metal frames together - and this becomes part of its beauty. Its curves and angles would not work if it was painted purple or red. It has to be be glorious minimal white and looks best against a clear blue sky. 

Andy Warhol 'Mao' 1972 from a series of ten silk screens
Currently there is the 'Warhol is Here' exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion. (see video here). Andy Warhol, whether you love or loathe, is one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. He was fascinated with celebrity, consumer goods, reproduced photographic images, money and fame - whether we like it or not he was just like us. A lot of modern art is inspired by Warhol and his work seems more relevant now than when he made it. He could have been a charlatan or he could have been a genius - but, either way, you can not ignore him. 
Andy Warhol 'Marilyn Diptych' 1962
Warhol used the industrial silkscreen processes used in commercial printing. He also used everyday found images - Tins of soup, coca cola bottles, photographs of celebrities like Elvis or Marylin Monroe. He suggested celebrities were products like a can of soup - to be consumed. He also suggested a mass produced can of soup could be art and a piece of art could be mass produced - so he took one images and repeated it again and again.

'Buying is more American than thinking'

Warhol 'Triple Elvis' 1963. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas
In 'Triple Elvis' a promotional photograph of Elvis is overlaid three times using the silkscreen process. This creates a visual Jump - creating movement in a static image. It also suggests that celebrity is shallow - that stars are turned into products to be consumed by the viewer. When you see a Warhol in the flesh you notice that each silk screened image is slightly different to the next. Little imperfections give the initially mechanical image painterly qualities.

Andy Warhol 'Orange Car Crash' Silk Screen print on Canvas 1964
Warhol celebrates all that is common, everyday, vulgar and mechanical. Coke bottles, soup cans, movie stars, adverts, newspapers - they were all up for grabs for Warhol. This is Pop Art - Pop because it is popular or Pop because you get it in a instant - like an advert. He did not paint these images by hand - instead he used the silkscreen process so he could reproduce the images again and again.

He worked in a variety of mediums including-

Andy Warhol's 'Screen Tests'.
Warhol would invite people to The Factory and sit them in front of a single light. He would then film them with a 16 mm film camera for the length of the reel (about three minutes). When he played these films back (often projected in a gallery) he set it to a slower speed - this way every gesture would be magnified. Initially the subject would try to retain the mask they showed the world but eventually little glimpses of the real person would appear.
The Velvet Underground and Nico (Produced? by Warhol - see here)

To understand how Warhol got to his ideas you have to look at what came before him in American art.
What came before could not have been further away from bold, industrially produced images taken from popular culture.

Jack Pollock painting with his canvas on the floor (watch here)
10 years before Warhol the art world was very different. It was 1950's America and Jazz, Beatniks, Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and Robert Frank and his definitive images of America.

Jackson Pollock placed his canvas' on the floor of his studio and he dripped paint from above - allowing the drips to build up to create a purely abstract image. If it is an image of anything it is the traces of Pollock's movements and gestures - the act of painting itself. To create all art is a performance of some kind an the actual art object is the record of that performance. This way of thinking could only come from questioning what art is. You could see Pollack moving around his painting as a type of performance art.

Jackson Pollock 'Autumn Rhythm' 1950
This image above is called 'Autumn Rhythm' (1950) by Jackson Pollock. The drips and spills reflect the actions of the artist as he moves around the canvas. 

Nothing figurative appears in this image and therir is no reference to the out side world - soup can were not art to Pollock, just his lunch.
Mark Rothko 'White Center' 1950
Mark Rothko was another abstract expressionist who created large scale abstract images. Orange, warm pink rectangles float and hum in this painting. The paintings have formal elements such as depth, composition, colour and balance. When you stand in front of one of these works their size and colour engulf you.

There is no reference to the outside world, mid twentieth century American painting is abstract, large-scale serious and authoritative. This art could be described as timeless - there is no clue, in the image, of what was going on in society. At this point in time abstraction was the dominate style in painting. In fact Rothko wanted his images to last for a thousand years. Warhol would want people to get his work in a instant or 'Pop'. Apparently in his final years Rothko would cross the street so he would not have to see Andy Warhol on the New York streets where they both lived.

All this would change. At this stage it may seem that painting was triumphant but if you looked around in 1950's America you were not surrounded by cool abstract images. There were films flickering at drive in movie theatre's and cinemas, giant advertising billboards, colour Technicolour magazines and cheap Kodak cameras for amateurs to make their own snap shots. The dominant way of making images was, and would continue to be, photography.

Artists reflect the world around them - and that is what happened next.

Robert Rauschenberg 'Charlene' 1954

Rauschenburg, along with his friend and fellow artist Jasper Johns, would influence this major shift in art. Their work was the bridge between the pure abstraction and 'high art' values of the Abstract Expressionists and the commercial figurative world of Pop Art.

Robert Rauschenberg mixed the drips and gestural marks of abstract expressionism but started adding elements from everyday life.

Rauschenburg's early work mixes printed images (newpaper, photographs etc.) with scraps of material, found letters, paint and objects. Rauschenberg himself called his paintings Combines - because they combined all the deitrus the city left behind.  Rauschenberg said -

'You can't make either life or art, you have to work in the hole in between, which is undefined. That's what makes the adventure of painting.'
 Robert Rauschenberg

There is a raw beauty to his early work and a great feeling of energy - just like the city itself. Rauchenberg's was also influenced by Dada.
Jasper Johns 'Flag' 1954 -55
Jasper John 'Flag' detail
Similary Jasper John's work was loose and gestural but refered to the actual world. This is a Flag. And it is an object. It is also a painting of a flag by John's. Johns early work could be all three - an object, a thing and a painting of a thing. John's work shows how images can be more than one thing. To create the 'Flag' he used newspaper dipped in coloured wax - known as encaustic. Along with  Rauschenberg, John's work was the bridge between the painterly marks of abstract expressionism and the everyday world of Pop Art.

Andy Warhol 'Campbells Soup Cans' 1962

Warhol took John's and Rauschenberg's use of the everyday further. Gone are the drips and expression - all that reamians are the bold graphic appropriated images reproduced by a mechanical means.

Warhol 'Campbell's Soup Can' Detail

Apparently in his final years Rothko would cross the street so he would not have to see Andy Warhol on the New York streets where they both lived. Warhol celebrates all that is common, everyday, vulgar and mechanical. Coke bottles, soup cans, movie stars, adverts, newspapers - they were all up for grabs for Warhol.