Inside: Pop art tattoo style defined, it’s meaning inspiration and categories.
What is a Pop Art Tattoo?
Pop art tattoo is a tattooing style in which tattoo artists employ pop art motifs, composition styles, and coloration in a tattoo. Pop art tattoos usually feature bright colors, heavy black outlines, elements of collage and lithography, dotting, and images of celebrities and commonplace objects.
Why Is Pop Art Tattooing Popular?
Pop art tattooing is popular because it borrows heavily from pop art, which has maintained cultural and artistic relevance for over 70 years. Pop art led to the development of the New School of tattooing, which made the skill of tattooing and art making accessible to the public.
Before pop art and the New School, tradespeople protected many of the practices of making art to reduce competition. Artists had many “secrets of the trade,” prohibiting the general public from learning new artistic skills without years of apprenticeships and training.
However, the revolutions of pop art made these skills accessible to the public, as did the New school of tattooing. These revolutions continue to affect the tattooing process and its accessibility today.
History of Pop Art Tattooing
Pop art tattooing draws inspiration from the pop art movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Leaders of this artistic style included:
- Eduardo Paolozzi
- Andy Warhol
- Roy Lichtenstein
- Robert Rauschenberg
- Keith Haring
Pop art began in 1947 when Eduardo Paolozzi found artistic success in making collages from old magazines. These early pop art pieces combined advertisements, clippings from comic strips, and text from magazine articles.
Other artists like Andy Warhol used lithograph prints to construct hyper-pigmented, tessellating designs that made real-life objects 2-dimensional, repetitive, and eye-catching to subvert advertising and capital culture.
Meanwhile, some pivotal pop artists took more inspiration from graffiti, which employed thick, heavy lines filled with bright colors.
Due to their layered, multi-media composition, early pop art pieces often had a 2-dimensional dynamic feel that juxtaposed ads for everyday objects, celebrities, and other people’s art in an absurdist and provocative manner. This postmodern style relied heavily on satirizing consumer culture, art, and fame, depicting faces and text as deconstructable, artificial, and excessive.
Following the influence of pop art, the pop art tattoo style arose as a substyle in the new school of tattooing during the 1970s and 1980s. The new school emerged as a rejection of Old School tattoos, which employed deep shading and grayscale tattoos that included limited use of common motifs colored with 2-dimensional primary colors, mainly red and yellow.
However, new school tattoos drew heavily from the same sources as pop art, often taking on a cartoonish look with elements of the following:
- Graffiti art
- Manga and anime
- Disney animation
- Japanese tattooing
Pop art tattoos usually contain depictions of pop culture icons such as scenes from movies, comics, cartoons, celebrities, or everyday objects in an animated style.
However, due to the prevalence of pop art and the revolutions it created within the art industry, pop art icons, such as Warhol’s tessellated designs and Keith Haring’s dark-lined characters, had already become popular motifs for tattooing. This popularity possibly helped lead the way towards the New School.
1. Crying Girl
3. Love Scene
4. Pop Art Sleeve
Examples of Pop Art Tattoos
The following are some of the most commonly requested pop art tattoos:
Roy Lichtenstein-Inspired Crying Girls
Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl has seen many adaptations, especially in the new school style. An example is this sleeve, which uses the cartoon dot-work and vibrant primary colors found in Lichtenstein’s art. It also includes the cartoon-style text bubbles, remnants of pop art’s foundations in collage and cultural satire.
Pulp Fiction Tattoos
Motifs from the film Pulp Fiction are prevalent in pop art tattooing. They are a prime example of how pop art tattoos employ pop culture icons in a provocative, absurdist, and satirical way.
This particular example hails back to the early days of pop art, but in a way that captures the ethos of the New School of Tattooing. It uses collage design to juxtapose Uma Therman’s face from Pulp Fiction with a classical bust of the Madonna, which has been littered with graffiti. This tattoo also uses dark lines to enclose Therman’s face, hailing back to the clipped cartoons in Paolozzi’s art.
3D Glasses Tattoos
Tattoos like this dagger feature red and blue components that give the tattoo a 3D appearance or shift perspective when you wear red and blue 3D glasses. These tattoos play with perspective and are a hallmark of ’90s and Y2K pop culture as they are reminiscent of the invention of 3D cinema.
Realist Pop Art Tattoos
Realist pop art tattoos often borrow heavily from collages and abstract outlines. For example, this tattoo of Nikola Tesla combines elements of realism with blue and red outlining, color blocking, and white space, transforming a realistic tattoo into a collage of pop art techniques.
Types of Pop Art Tattoos
The following are examples of different types of pop art tattoos:
Graffiti Tattoo Style
Although Graffiti-style tattoos have made a long departure from their original role in pop art, they are still a part of the pop art tattoo style. Popular tags and street art employ heavy, dark lines and, occasionally, vibrant colors reminiscent of Keith Haring’s early work in the pop art movement.
Cartoon and Comic Tattoo Style
Images from cartoons, whether Japanese manga and anime characters, Disney characters, or clippings from comics and graphic novels, all fall under the Pop art tattooing style. These tattoos often include thick, black outlines, lithograph and newspaper print elements, and black boxes surrounding the image.
Realist Pop Art Tattoo Style
Realist pop art tattooing often uses realistic images overlaid with elements of collage. Tattoo artists usually achieve this through color work, with some sections in contrasting, bright colors. Vibrant backgrounds, colorful lines radiating from the central motif, and geometric shapes contrast these designs.
Collage Tattoo Style
Collage-style tattoos combine elements using mixed techniques that replicate collage. These tattoos may include a juxtaposition of Old and New School tattooing methods or combine multiple sub-styles of pop art tattooing (e.g., an image containing sections of cartoon-style elements overlaid atop a realist tattoo).
Pop Art Tattoo Vs. Surrealism Tattoo
Pop art and surreal tattooing styles exist in the realm of postmodernist abstraction. However, pop art motifs are mundane, including celebrities, objects, and other pop culture icons. On the other hand, surrealist motifs are fantastical and dream-like, and they rarely employ satirical or ironic elements.
- Pop art tattoo is a postmodern style of tattooing related to the New School of the 1970s and 1980s.
- Pop art tattooing employs elements of collage, graffiti, comics, abstraction, satire, realism, and pop culture.
- Pop art tattooing and other forms of New School tattoo made learning the tattooing trade more accessible to the general public.
Would you get a pop art tattoo? If you would, which one is your favorite style?