The British Are Coming
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Plattsburgh State Art Museum
State University of New York College at Plattsburgh

   THE BRITISH ARE COMING   

Patrick Caulfield, Sausages, 1978 (detail)
While easy comparisons may exist between the Pop image making of Lichtenstein and Caulfield, in the end they are only superficial. Caulfield’s images reflect a fascination with the banal and a profound interest in simplification. The Zap!, the Pow! and commercial veneer of New York Pop are replaced by an understated, cooler ironic look at more domestic situations. The Sausage prints represent a hotter and jazzier approach to his subject matter than much of his work. Photo: PSAM

Thumbnail Image, Patrick Caulfield, Sausages
Click thumbnail for larger image.
    The Independent Group led the way in theory, as well as practice, though it took a bit of time for their work to catch up with their theories. The Art schools were, in effect, the trenches. The military metaphor is not out of place here, since many of the art students in Britain in the 50s had served in the war. The fact that they were older, had combat experience and were often from working class backgrounds (educations paid for by the British equivalent of the G.I. Bill) led them to be confident resisters of the status quo of British art education as presented by their tutors, which was more often than not, a stodgy reflection of upper class taste, both in subject and style.

    Many of the artists who gained prominence in the period of the 1960s and 1970s either studied at the Royal College of Art or taught there. Many were classmates during the period from the mid-fifties to the early sixties. They all exhibited strong sensibilities and well-defined notions about the direction of their work, which was often at odds with the more conservative and restrained approach their teachers took in their work and pedagogy. It is inappropriate to lump all of these artists into a single style and refer to them all as British Pop artists. David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj resisted the Pop label. Patrick Caulfield was most resistant of all, despite the clear stylistic relationships his work showed to pop conventions such as banal subjects rendered with strong black outlines and flat color. The artists do not all fit into a consistent stylistic mold. R. B. Kitaj, one of the most prolific and original of the lot is not even British, but American. By virtue of his American roots and his knowledge of the work of Johns and Rauschenberg, as well as his being several years older than his classmates, he became a respected figure among his peers at RCA. His painterly style and very personal subject matter was very influential on David Hockney. Hockney’s personal naughtiness became subject matter for his work. Indeed, Hockney was expelled from school and made a farce of it by including a diploma of his own device in a suite of prints, “A Rakes Progress,” in which Hogarth’s rake becomes an art student in New York. This whimsical sense of humor and willingness to have more personal and emotional context for art sets the work of the RCA students apart from the Independent Group.
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(ARS), Permission for the reproduction of artwork courtesy of Artists Rights Society © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London.
(PSAM), Artwork from the permanent collection of Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
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