Until the early twentieth century art through its various currents, is focused on the representation of reality surrounding the artist. Whether they are customs, religious or scenery scenes, it seems that all the pictorial movements have a common goal, the pursuit of beauty.
The movements arising from this moment radically break with that idea. The Italian Futurism incorporates the machine and motion, making items like cars or airplanes protagonists and stating that the industry is the new pillar on which the human being stands, which clearly trumps over nature. Cubism, with its deconstruction of the image, is the final step to rebellion and anarchy as the result of periods of repression but also inspired by the need to recover the form of the elements represented, lost in impressionism. Dadaism, with Schwitters and Duchamp to the head, create the paradoxical concept of anti-art and develop the theory of absurdity extolling everyday objects and taking them to art galleries. Examples such as "Dynamism of a Cyclist" by Boccioni, the "Guernica" by Picasso or "The fountain" by Duchamp make it clear that the conventional art represents the classical and the formalities and that these artists are the new face of art, modern and nonconformity.
If we skip a couple of decades and forward to the 50s, we find a young artist who experiments with kitsch and mass production. We are talking about Robert Rauschenberg, who puts all his efforts in bringing art to the general public and breaking with the seriousness and cultural elitism of Abstract Expressionism. Rauschenberg is the source of inspiration for artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist, parents of pop culture.
As we've just mentioned, until mid-century, art was rebellious and revolutionary, if only it was understood by few. Those with extensive academic background and cultural skills were the ones fortunate enough to be able to understand and appreciate what the artists represented. Even fewer were the ones who, besides possessing these qualities, had the buying power to acquire some of the works shown in art galleries. This is the moment in art history when the Pop Art appears. And the thing is that Pop is nothing more and nothing less than an abbreviation of "popular."; Pop art is about making art accessible to the people, at least culturally speaking.
In a time when consumer culture is in its great height, the line between art and advertising is so weak that disappears. Roy Lichtenstein uses the aesthetics of advertising vignettes and benday (weaved points that create an image typical of printing) with an ironic and sarcastic language to approach the public. Andy Warhol (of which we have spoken on other articles such as “Andy Warhol’s Idols” and “Andy Warhol: Marylin series”), takes mass production to another level. His depictions of Campbell's Soups and his portraits of movie and music stars, bring the ordinary to the art gallery. Andy Warhol gives a twist to artistic creation developing many of his works through a printing process typical of the industry like screen printing. This way, Warhol enhances the concept of popular through the process of creation of his works.
If we go ahead in time again, we arrive in the 80's. The end of the Vietnam War, the enmity between Russia and the United States and the end of the happy times of the disco era make these dark days. The art world suffers and the artists, frustrated for not being able to achieve a place in the great galleries, go out to the decadent streets where they find a space to express themselves. Thus, we find in the history of art DONDI (Donald Joseph White) and his "Children of the grave" (title of a song by Black Sabbath). Once again, art and the paradox, meet this time on three subway cars that are illegally painted at the public eye.
In an age of excess consumption, where money means power and happiness, artists like Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring or Bleck Le Rat put their efforts into creating social awareness. Basquiat, under the pseudonym SAMO, leaves aside the tagging to create poems that revealed the existence of a part of the society marginalized and unprivileged, that coexisted with the yuppies obsessed with money. Keith Haring, activist for freedom and human rights, used his educating in graphic arts to redecorate the streets and the urban furniture with his unique style. Socio-political intentions were behind his depictions of life, death, sex and war. Bleck Le Rat, became known after spreading a plague of rats on the walls of the French capital, as, according to this artist, they are the only free animals that can be found in big cities.
It's inevitable seeing the many similarities between urban art and pop art. Both movements pursue the idea of making art available to the general public, either through painting, printmaking or in the street furniture in full view. It is also common to find, as we have already mention in our article Street art, much more than graffiti, touches of irony, satire and parody on the Street art, pillars of Pop Art.
Thus, it is easy to see how the young urban artists today take as a reference, their predecessors. If we look at D*Face’s works, it's easy to see the influence of Roy Lichtenstein's comic vignettes. And like the latter, Sandra Chevrier is inspired and uses the comic to create impressive female portraits. Pure Evil, like Warhol, uses the image of the most famous faces of cinema and music to create his series of "nightmares". Surely the King of Pop is also a source of inspiration for Mr. Brainwash (we can see Kate Moss or Andy Warhol in works by this artist) or Shepard Fairey. Invader takes something as banal as the artistic image of video games and we can see the mosaics in cities around the world, but also inside the biggest galleries. It is undeniable that Bleck Le Rat inspires Banksy and he in turn to as many urban artists.
We can say that from the beginning of the vanguards of the twentieth century, artists have gone a step ahead of the social and political situation of their moment. Whether it was through the nonconformity, rebellion or the expression of an idea, we've observed the need to break with the most conservative and preconceived ideas. This has its greatest exponent with the emergence of urban art, that beyond aesthetic considerations, it explores ethical problems arising from mass consumption, globalization or capitalism.