THE extraordinary ground-breaking era of Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain is the subject of a major exhibition at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

The gallery holds one of the largest public collections of British Pop Art internationally and the exhibition demonstrates the breadth of British Pop Art and the complexity of its definition, presenting ‘Pop’ as an attitude with a lasting legacy.

In the 1950s and 1960s, a generation of artists led by Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake responded to a radical cultural shift, addressing the rise of mass media, the cult of celebrity, questions of identity and prevalent political issues.

Artists adopted imagery from a wide range of cultural sources including advertising, comics, science fiction and contemporary music. They used non-traditional techniques such as screen printing and unconventional materials such as commercial house paints and ‘found’ objects. They challenged thinking about art and mass media, democratising art in the post-war period by questioning the traditional division between high and low art.

The POP! Art in a Changing Britain exhibition, the Pallant House Gallery’s largest to date, occupying the entire upper galleries of the contemporary wing, celebrates the extensive body of paintings, sculpture and prints created in the two decades that followed the Second World War, exploring it through a series of themes. They are:

Man and Machine

In the 1950s, artists searched for an appropriate way forward for modern art. For many the figure became a vehicle through which to explore personal and stylistic developments, and questions of identity and gender roles in the changing cultural landscape. Artists such as Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi created collages using mechanical debris and printed materials to explore the depiction of the figure in an increasingly mechanised environment. Taking this further, Richard Hamilton’s ‘Hers is a Lush Situation’ (1958) commented on the sexual allure inherent in automobile advertising by merging the female figure with car design.

Celebrity and Pleasure

As the economy gradually grew after years of rationing, the desire for consumerism and the proliferation of images through mass media both increased. The burgeoning presence of popular music, film, magazines and advertising led to an obsession with celebrity and the emergence of distinctive styles that chronicled contemporary culture such as in Peter Blake’s ‘Girls with their Hero’ (1959- 62) and ‘The Beatles’ (1963-68), and Jann Haworth’s ‘Cowboy’ (1964).

Youth and Liberation

In the early 1960s, a generation of artists emerged from art schools with a new attitude towards the urban environment and contemporary life. A group of artists, mainly from the Royal College of Art, known as the ‘Young Contemporaries’ – including Derek Boshier, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney, Allen Jones, R.B. Kitaj and Peter Phillips – turned to their personal narratives and immediate environment as valid and vital subject matter for their art. David Hockney’s ‘Kaisarion with All His Beauty’ (1961) and R.B Kitaj’s ‘Plays for Total Stakes’ (1968) are particular examples.

Colour and Production

The relationship between the printing process and artistic practice was revolutionised in the 1960s, notably through the work of Eduardo Paolozzi and R.B. Kitaj in collaboration with the Kelpra Studio. Both artists shared an interest in sourcing diverse material and emphasising the flattened surface through graphic treatment of the imagery, creating major graphic portfolios including Paolozzi’s ‘As is When’ (1965) and Kitaj’s ‘Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol (1964-67).

Series and Repetition

Mass reproduction, multiples and series began to challenge the notion of the unique artwork and dismantled traditional categories and boundaries. This room features the four significant portfolios by Eduardo Paolozzi from Pallant House Gallery’s collection, including ‘Zero Energy Experiment Pile (Z.E.E.P)’ (1969-70).

Politics and Society

The 1950s not only saw the influence of advertising, consumerism and mass production on society, but were also defined by nuclear development both at home and abroad. This resulted in anxiety regarding society’s future relationship with technology. Artists responded to the social and political climate, as seen in Colin Self’s ‘Waiting Women and Two Nuclear Bombers’ (1962-3) and Joe Tilson’s series of prints featuring controversial political figures such as Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh.

Pop and Progression

Any attempt to define British Pop Art has to acknowledge the broad range of stylistic responses and attitudes of the time. However, there are underlying commonalities. The flat surface, bold colours and simplified description of forms defined the work of many artists working during this time, as seen in Patrick Caulfield’s ‘Coloured Still Life’ (1967) and Derrick Greaves’s ‘Flower Piece’ (1969).

The gallery’s collection was formed by the architects Colin St John Wilson and MJ Long and the exhibition is curated by the gallery’s senior curator Claudia Milburn and curator Louise Weller. An illustrated book that accompanies the exhibition is on sale in the Pallant Bookshop.

* The exhibition is complemented by a display of six important works by Peter Blake, Michael Craig-Martin, Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst, Gavin Turk and Rachel Whiteread, which have been donated to Pallant House Gallery by Frank and Lorna Dunphy. Frank Dunphy was former manager to Damien Hirst. This group of significant works demonstrate how a generation of artists known as the Young British Artists (YBAs) adopted and expanded the 1960s Pop Art aesthetic.

POP! Art in a Changing Britain is at Pallant House Gallery, 9 North Pallant, Chichester, from Saturday February 24 until Monday May 7. Phone 01243 774557 or visit pallant.org.uk.

Words courtesy of the Pallant House Gallery.

Above: Jann Haworth, Cowboy, 1964 © Jann Haworth

Main picture, top: Richard Hamilton, Adonis in Y-Fronts, 1963 © The Estate of the Artist

Below: Joe Tilson, 1-5 the Senses, 1963 © Joe Tilson

Above: Patrick Caulfield, Coloured Still Life, 1967, © Janet Nathan Caulfield

Below: Richard Hamilton, Hers is a Lush Situation, 1958

Above: Paolozzi, The Silken World of Michelangelo from Moonstrips Empire News, 1967

Below: Nigel Henderson, Detail (Panel 1) of 4 Mural Panels (Screen), 1949-52 and 1960 © The Estate of Nigel Henderson

Above: Colin Self, Waiting Women and Two Nuclear Bombers (Handley Page Victors), 1962-63

Below: Peter Blake, Girls with their Hero, 1959-62 © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2017

Above: R.B Kitaj, For Fear from the ‘Mahler Becomes Politics, Beisbol’, 1964-67 © The Estate of R B Kitaj

Below: R.B Kitaj, Plays for Total Stakes, 1968 © The Estate of R B Kitaj