Art critics and art historians have wrongfully neglected female Pop artists when writing about the famous movement. Until the nineties, most of the artworks created by female artists were excluded from exhibitions and books on Pop art. However, female Pop artists had a lot to show! They not only embraced the consumer culture that inspired Pop art but also presented their view of pop culture and its existing gender politics. So, women are not just present in the works of Pop as objects, but they also exist as artists within the movement. Here are 5 female Pop artists you should check out!
1. Pauline Boty: Britain’s Most Famous Female Pop Artist
Pauline Boty was one of the most active female pop artists of British Pop Art. During her short life, Boty worked as a painter, actress, and model. Because of her obvious beauty, she was nicknamed “The Wimbledon Bardot” by her schoolmates. Since she worked in the entertainment industry herself, Boty was well aware of the way women were perceived by the media. Objectification of women was omnipresent in the mainstream culture of the 1950s and 1960s from which Pop artists derived most of their inspiration.
Like other Pop artists, Boty frequently painted international stars such as Jean-Paul Belmondo, Elvis, Monica Vitti, The Everly Brothers, and The Beatles. She was also a big fan of Marilyn Monroe and portrayed the famous actress in works like The Only Blonde in the World and Colour Her Gone. In her painting Celia Birtwell and Some of her Heroes, Boty depicted her friend standing in front of a wall embellished with pictures of male celebrities. The artist showed what it was like to be inside a woman’s world filled with daydreams of famous sex symbols. She is quoted for saying “I think having any hero or heroine is like building an extension onto your own personality.”
2. Marisol Escobar: “Glam Girl” Of Pop Art
Marisol Escobar, who also went by her first name, was a Venezuelan female Pop artist who Andy Warhol called “the first girl artist with glamour.” Often described as beautiful and enigmatic, Marisol was frequently featured in the press because of her looks and style, rather than the artwork she made.
Inspired by the works of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Pre-Columbian art, Marisol started making sculptures in the early 1950s. Choosing to create art out of wood, the Pop artist showed the stiffness and the rigidness of the consumer culture she was a part of. Besides wood, she also used plaster, fabric, and paint when creating her assemblages and sculptures.
Marisol’s humor and ironic stance of Pop art are visible in works like Love, where a bottle of Coke is almost violently shoved down a person’s throat. She also created many sculptures that showed celebrities, movie stars, and political figures like JFK and Lindon B. Johnson. Because of Andy Warhol’s fame, Marisol’s portrait of him is not only a portrait of a fellow artist but a portrait of a celebrity.
In her works, Marisol liked to portray anonymous Americans that represented the consumerist society of the 1960s. In much of her work that shows everyday women, Marisol used her face as a model. In the piece named Women and Dog, all four female figures look like Marisol. She made models of her face in plaster, used it as a photograph, and drew her face on the figure of a little girl. Parts of the sculpture were purposely left unfinished in order to show that an image of a modern woman is one that is made.
Numerous Marisol’s pieces show femininity as a concept that is artificially created and thought through. You can notice femininity as a construct in one of her most famous works called The Party. In this piece, we see a large number of standing figures acting as party guests. They all carry Marisol’s face and most of them seem well-dressed. After looking closely, you can notice the missing pieces or the fact that the jewelry which is supposed to look expensive is actually made out of cheap materials. Marisol showed femininity as something fragile, acted, and constructed. She is one of the best-known female Pop artists.
3. Evelyne Axell: Proto-Feminist Pop Art
Evelyne Axell was a Belgian female pop artist. Never afraid to express female sexuality in her work, Axell made many proto-feminist artworks years before Feminist art formed as a movement. Like Pauline Boty, she also worked as an actress. In 1963, she quit her acting career to pursue painting. Her husband, Belgian film director Jean Antoine, introduced her to the surrealist painter René Magritte. Magritte soon became her artistic mentor.
Axell often used plastic materials and psychedelic colors in her artworks. In a series of works named Erotomobiles, she combined female sexuality with consumer culture’s favorite object – the car. Through her provocative and seductive works, Axell always showed the female side of pleasure in a “man’s world”. Axell’s painted women existed in a world of liberated sexuality that was yet to come with the rise of the sexual revolution and the women’s movement.
In her 1966 work named Valentine Axell depicted a naked female silhouette on a golden background. Valentine represents her response to the Space Race – a big cultural phenomena of the time. The name of the work directly alludes to Valentina Tereshkova, a Soviet astronaut who was the first woman to fly to space.
4. Rosalyn Drexler: Pop Art And Irony
Rosalyn Drexler is an American female Pop artist and a writer. It’s interesting to know that she also had a professional wrestling career. Like a number of other Pop artists, Drexler portrayed Marilyn Monroe. In her 1963 work named Marilyn Pursued by Death Drexler showed the actress being chased by an anonymous man. The man in the painting can be understood as a metaphor for the paparazzi and the press that always ran after Marilyn.
Drexler didn’t paint many Pop art portraits of celebrities like Warhol or Boty. However, she appropriated images from mass culture. Scenes from her paintings resemble parts of B movies, film noir, or pulp fiction novels.
Her work can also be categorized as proto-feminist. By taking images from pop culture Drexler showed us that the position of women in media was defined by certain stereotypes.
References to pop culture are present in works like Kiss Me, Stupid where we see a couple kissing in a theatrical manner. The figures in black and white look like cut-outs from a magazine. Drexler’s humorous side is obvious when we look at the names of her paintings. Titles like God Shaves, Al Capone Combs His Hair, Hold your Fire (Men and Machines) and Ana Falling (Was She Pushed?) show her ironic look at mass culture.
5. Jann Haworth: Soft Sculpture Pioneer
Jann Haworth is an American female pop artist born in Los Angeles. Her father was a famous Hollywood Art Director so she had a chance to grow up in the land where pop culture was being made. In the early 1960s, Haworth left L.A. and moved to England to study art.
She is known for her soft sculptures made out of fabric. Despite the fact that other pop artists like Claus Oldenburg also used soft materials in their work, Haworth’s choice of material was viewed as feminine. Her soft sculptures resemble donuts, rhinestones, and even celebrities. In her 1965 soft sculpture named Mae West Dressing Table, we see the Hollywood actress as if she was looking at her own reflection in the mirror.
Haworth was married to British Pop artist Peter Blake. Together, they designed the famous cover for The Beatles album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The artistic duo even won a Grammy award for the Best Album Cover. Unfortunately, Haworth does not get as much recognition for the work as Blake. In one of her interviews, Haworth even commented on that by saying: ‘If there’s a couple involved in something, it’s bound to be the guy who did it’.
The Importance Of Female Pop Artists
While most people can easily name a few male Pop artists, not many know much about the female voices of the movement. They are of course crucial to understanding Pop art fully. Female Pop artists can also show us that Pop art is not only an American and British phenomenon but an international one too. Their works are also important as proto-feminist artworks that came before the emergence of Feminist art in the 1970s.
Pop art celebrated the consumer culture of the 1950s and 1960s. Women, of course, were an important part of that culture. Pop artists appropriated images found in posters, movies, television programs, commercials, and comics. Some female Pop artists like Evelyne Axell and Pauline Boty worked within the entertainment industry as actresses, TV presenters, and models. Marisol was also frequently featured in the press, but mostly because of the way she appeared in public. Because of that, they had direct experiences of the way mass culture treated women.
Female Pop artists also showed that they could enjoy the fruits of consumer culture while simultaneously being subversive. It is safe to say that female pop artists understood the position of women in media better than male artists. Because of all of these personal experiences, voices of female Pop artists are extremely important when analyzing the gender politics of Pop art.
More often than not female Pop artists were marginalized from the mainstream history of Pop. However, more attention is being given to the art of female Pop nowadays. Exhibitions like Power Up – Female Pop Art in Vienna and The World Goes Pop in London showed a large number of works made by women artists. Let’s hope it stays that way!