The Soup Can School of Art: A Brief History

"Masterpiece: Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein: Masterpiece-54″X54″ sold in 2017 for $165 million

In the spring of 1961, art dealers in New York City began promoting the Soup Can school of art (POP ART) as being different from Abstract Expressionism. The movement sharply returned to recognizable subject matter, veering away from Abstract Art. The subject matter were common everyday, every person items: such as, comic strips, street signs, license plates, coke bottles, light bulbs, movie stars, and soup cans. Thus, the beginning of a new school of art.

Andy Warhol: Small Torn Campbell's Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold for $11.8m
Andy Warhol: Small Torn Campbell’s Soup Can (Pepper Pot) sold for $11.8m

I remember, in the ’60s, I was enamored, but at the same time confused, by the popularity of the art. I mean, who couldn’t paint a soup can, or a large cartoon? I certainly could, but I didn’t do it, and I didn’t come up with the concept, nor did I start a movement. The movement made several artists famous; such as: Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, Larry Rivers, Allan D’Arcangelo, and the great Jasper Johns, just to name a few.

Much of the art was represented in exaggerated detail. In many cases, the canvases were huge and seemed  proudly to depict the banalities of American life. I would consider this to be the definition of the Soup Can school of thought.

Robert Rauschenberg: Black Market
Robert Rauschenberg bridged Abstract Expressionism and the newer Pop movement by fastening to his canvases such objects as rusting signs and license plates.

To add a three dimensional impact to their art, some artists followed in the style of graphic artist, Robert Rauschenberg, who tacked on objects as appendages to the painting.

In the early 60s, the whole attitude of Pop Art (the Soup Can school) had similarities in the nation’s changing life style. Everything was bright and shining colors. This included everything from kitchen appliances to automobiles. The music was changing beginning with the explosive style of the Beatles impacting not only music but a flippant playful approach to a very serious world.

The Soup Can school of artists often plucked on nostalgia for childhood hours spent reading Marvel and DC comics, but when one comic book panel turns into a 54″X54″ giant exaggerated memory it is art! It is when those who “know” say it is worth millions of dollars.


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