12 Pop Artists Who Achieved Greatness

Pop artists celebrated and criticized mass culture, consumerism, and the post-war era.

Jul 7, 2023By Anastasiia S. Kirpalov, MA Art History, Modern & Contemporary Art

pop artists achieved greatness


Pop art is one of the best-known art movements of the twentieth century. Some call it an American phenomenon, although it originated in the UK, while others see it as a direct and logical step in the development of Western art. Pop artists used recognizable imagery from popular culture, bright colors, and catchy titles, mixing high art with provocative kitsch. Pop art can be fun, but it can also be disturbing with deep social issues leaking through the cheerful advertisements. Take a look at 12 artists who defined Pop art.


12. Pop Artist Richard Hamilton (1922 – 2011)

hamilton homes print
Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different? by Richard Hamilton, 1992, via Tate, London


British artist Richard Hamilton is one of the founders of the Pop art movement. One of Hamilton’s main concerns was the commodification of daily life and rampant consumerism. He saw Pop art as not just another art movement but as a way of living.


Hamilton’s most recognizable work is the series of collages and prints known as Just What Is It That Makes Today’s Homes So Different? where Hamilton put together pop cultural images with advertisements and magazine cutouts along with photographs of military action or refugees. In his 1992 version of the collage, he addressed the AIDS epidemic by parodying Robert Indiana’s 1967 work LOVE.


11. Jasper Johns (1930 -)

johns three flags painting
Three Flags by Jasper Johns, 1958, via Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


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Jasper Johns is a great American Pop artist known for his paintings of flags and targets. Raised in rural South Carolina, he had little to no contact with art until his teenage years but still expressed his dream to become an artist at an early age.  By choosing the American flag as his main subject matter, Johns erased the barrier between high art and everyday objects and provoked a conversation on the reproducibility of images. As omnipresent as it is in American daily life, the flag is rarely examined closely and in detail. Johns contested this fact by turning the flag into a set of patterns. He did not just paint the flag, he sculpted it from encaustic, thus connecting the figurative Pop art with the textured strokes of Abstract Expressionism.


10. Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008)

rauschenberg retroactive painting
Retroactive I by Robert Rauschenberg, 1964, via MoMA, New York


A key figure in several art movements, from Neo-Dada to Pop, Robert Rauschenberg started his line of groundbreaking artistic innovations with a series of white paintings. These were clear canvases devoid of any visible intervention. He later moved on to creating assemblages from found objects, prints, and paint.


Rauschenberg learned the silkscreen-printing technique from Andy Warhol and frequently used it during the 1960s. He highlighted the overwhelming flow of information coming from the mass media. Rauschenberg was, like many other Pop artists, politically engaged. His Pop-Art works often incorporate images of John F. Kennedy as a symbol of change that never got the chance to fully happen. The are also motifs referring to space exploration, which evoked a dose of optimism for the future.


9. David Hockney (1937 -)

hockney splash painting
A Bigger Splash by David Hockney, 1967, via Tate, London


The great master of Pop art David Hockney is one of the most influential British artists of his generation. Although Hockney is not the most technique-savvy artist on this list, his love for pure colors and simple forms made him one of the most recognizable contemporary artists. He is also famous for his depictions of pools: arriving in Los Angeles from London in 1963, Hockney was shocked to see pools as a part of everyday life. This fascination led him to create a series of pool paintings from 1964 to 1971. Even in his eighties, Hockney continues to be prolific.


8. James Rosenquist (1933 – 1917)

rosenquist f111 painting
F-111 by James Rosenquist, 1964-65, via MoMA, New York


Pop icon James Rosenquist started his career as a billboard painter and kept his fascination with popular imagery throughout his entire career. His mother was an amateur artist who made sure her son became familiar with art from an early age. The most recognizable part of Rosenquist’s oeuvre refers to the Vietnam War. Although Rosenquist was not a political activist, anti-war messages are obvious in his works. He juxtaposed war photographs with daily images of consumerism copied from magazines and advertisements. In his multi-panel work F-111, pasta bowls and broken light bulbs are positioned next to atomic bomb explosions, while a hairdryer on a little girl’s head looks a lot like a fighter pilot’s helmet.


7. Takashi Murakami (1962 -)

pop artist murakami 727 painting
727 by Takashi Murakami, 1996, via MoMA, New York


Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is one of the most recognizable Japanese Pop artists. He is also known for his many collaborations with musicians and luxury fashion brands. Murakami fuses Western painting tradition, Japanese woodblock prints, and contemporary manga and anime. Despite their playful appearance and bright colors, the characters he comes up with often evoke uneasy feelings of disorientation and anxiety.


Murakami is the author of his superflat art theory. His flat two-dimensional imagery is both a nod toward the Japanese artistic traditions and a social commentary on post-war Japan. According to Murakami, the trauma of war and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the rapid post-war development gave Japanese culture its unique shape. The borders between art and consumerism, between high-brow art and popular culture, were erased.


6. Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997)

pop artist lichtenstein drowning painting
Drowning Girl by Roy Lichtenstein, 1963, via Twitter


The great Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein found his inspiration in comic strips. But he never copied them exactly: Lichtenstein painstakingly worked on angles, scales, and composition to turn a comic frame into a dramatic scene and a true artistic expression. His works were parodic, but they were also studies on the industrialization of emotion through mass media. In Lichtenstein’s opinion, Pop was not an American art movement but an industrial one, fueled by mass production and mass media. Lichtenstein also invented a rotating easel which allowed him to work on a painting from various angles.


5. Eduardo Paolozzi (1924 – 2005)

paolozzi meet the people collage
Meet The People by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1948, via Tate, London


Despite what people usually think, Pop originated in the UK. In 1947, a Scottish artist called Eduardo Paolozzi presented his first collage titled I Was a Rich Man’s Plaything. It was made from American magazine cutouts. Paolozzi’s philosophy was to not waste anything. From magazines to wine boxes, he used it all and he found numerous ways to incorporate seemingly useless objects into his work. Although Paolozzi is believed to be the pioneer of Pop art, he always considered himself a Surrealist who mainly made sculptures. In fact, the term Pop art did not even exist when Paolozzi’s innovative work came to light. Only a decade later, In 1958, the English art critic Lawrence Alloway coined the term.


4. Yayoi Kusama (1929 -)

kusama inflatable room installation
Infinity Room by Yayoi Kusama, via Times of Israel


Yayoi Kusama is a living legend of Pop art and probably the most famous living woman artist. A student of Georgia O’Keeffe, she is known for her polka-dot patterns, use of wild colors, and infinity rooms. Infinity room installations feature environments composed of mirrors, inflatable sculptures, and quirky forms. Her obsession with dots, colors, and repetitive patterns comes from her childhood, when young Kusama hallucinated a patterned tablecloth growing and covering everything around her, including the ceiling.


In 1977, Yayoi Kusama’s failing mental health made her check into a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo. The artist lives in this institution, with her art studio built nearby. Kusama admitted that her art was her only reason to stay alive. The artist sees art as a cure and a universal language.


3. Claes Oldenburg (1929 – 2022)

oldenburg giant blt sculpture
Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich) by Claes Oldenburg, 1963, via Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Claes Oldenburg is one of the main stars of American Pop art. Known for his giant sculptures of food and mundane objects, Oldenburg put the emphasis not only on the critique of capitalism and consumption but on the objects themselves. By blowing them out of proportion, the Pop artist forced his audience to take another look at their daily life and provoked a childlike fascination with everyday objects.


From the mid-1970s, Oldenburg frequently worked in collaboration with his wife, a Dutch artist called Coosje van Bruggen. Their most famous work is a piece of public art titled Spoonbridge and Cherry. Oldenburg and van Bruggen created a fifteen-meter-long spoon for The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Despite the modern look of the work, the artists found their inspiration for this installation in the sculpture gardens of the Palace de Versailles.


2. Keith Haring (1958 – 1990)

pop artist haring photo
Keith Haring next to one of his artworks, via Dazed


Keith Haring started by painting graffiti on the New York subway. Some experts see his simple, almost childlike drawing style as a revival of figurative art that was overshadowed by the abstraction of the previous decades. Haring’s stick figures are painted with bright, almost aggressive colors, and combine their frivolous appearance with witty social commentary.


Haring’s artistic practice is inseparable from his political activism. During his lifetime, he frequently addressed topics like drug abuse and systemic racism. He also openly spoke against the South African apartheid regime. The Keith Haring Foundation, established a year before his AIDS-related death in 1990, uses the artist’s legacy to fund charity organizations for disadvantaged children and AIDS-fighting foundations.


1. The Most Famous Pop Artist Ever: Andy Warhol

warhol monroe print
Untitled from Marylin Monroe series by Andy Warhol, 1967, via MoMA, New York


Andy Warhol is the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of Pop art. Warhol is Pop art, not only in terms of his artistic creations but in terms of his public persona as well. His early work as a commercial illustrator made him familiar with consumer preferences and how advertising worked. He later used this knowledge to implement brand logos and celebrity images in his work.


Warhol put the topics of reproducibility and authenticity of artworks into a new light. In many cases, his silkscreen prints were created by his assistants with little to no intervention from Warhol himself. These nuances, along with his use of pop cultural symbols, add another dimension to Warhol’s work focusing on the ironic treatment of the art market and the concept of celebrity culture.

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By Anastasiia S. KirpalovMA Art History, Modern & Contemporary Art Anastasiia holds a MA degree in Art history from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Previously she worked as a museum assistant, caring for the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. She specializes in topics of early abstract art, nineteenth-century gender, spiritualism and occultism. Outside of her work, she is interested in cult studies, criminology, and fashion history.