Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Police Behind Cola Billboard

This week I have chosen John Clem Clarke's Pop Art image Police Behind Cola Billboard. Pop Art was initially developed in Britain although arguably it was the dominant culture of the United States which made the movement so well known and so popular. Pop art in America and Britain developed differently. In America, it marked a return to hard-edged composition and representational art as a response by artists to defuse the symbolism and ‘painterly looseness’ of Abstract Expressionism. In the US, it was linked to the wealth and prosperity of the post World War II era, and artists of the movement depicted the nation's consumer society and cultural iconography.

John Clem Clarke has worked in New York City since 1964 and his work straddles pop art and appropriation. In his best known work of the 60s Clarke updated scenes from classical art with contemporary figures and settings; he also has previously appropriated exact images, sometimes using reproductions as his source material. John Clem Clarke’s image, entitled Police Behind Cola Billboard, although created in 1995, uses the nostalgic imagery and period cultural icons that Clarke so often employs and that are so characteristic of America and American culture. In the early twentieth century, the Coca-Cola Company ran an advertisement of a beautiful woman drinking a Coke. The copy read; ‘Nothing is so suggestive of Coca-Cola’s own pure deliciousness as the picture of a beautiful, sweet, wholesome, womanly woman.’

Associating itself with ‘an ideal American girl’, Coca-Cola directed its appeal to the public’s social desires and cultural familiarity. Clarke takes this advertising concept one step further and combines the ‘Coca-Cola girl’ billboard with the all American theme of the police car chase. His painting Police Behind Cola Billboard is so film like, that it is possible to wonder what will happen next. If it is possible to almost smell the sweat of the boxers in George Bellows Stag at Sharkey’s, then arguably within Clarkes image one can almost hear the ‘hot rod’s’ engine as it nears the police officers hiding place.

These elements highlight this image as fundamentally American, the worship of the industrial and the mechanical represented by the billboard and the police car, the celebration of consumerism represented by the Coca Cola iconography, and the celebration of travel and social mobility signified by the road, another American icon. Therefore this image, and pop art, are unquestionably American, not just by what they show, but also by what they stands for, and what they represent.

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