Brillo pads in the supermarket

Consumerism & Pop Art’s Use of Everyday Supermarket Items

Why pop artists such as Andy Warhol looked to supermarket shelves for inspiration and what it said about 1950s and ‘60s consumer culture

Pop art emerged in the mid-20th century as a vibrant movement that challenged traditional notions of art by embracing the imagery of mass culture. Central to this artistic rebellion was a fascination with the mundane and the ordinary, particularly everyday consumer objects found in the burgeoning consumer culture of the 1950s and ’60s.

This period marked a transformative era, characterised by post-war prosperity and the rise of consumerism, where goods previously considered luxury items became accessible to the masses. Against this backdrop, pop artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and others turned their attention to the supermarket aisles and commercial advertisements, elevating the banal into icons of contemporary life.

But just why did some of the world’s greatest artistic minds look to supermarket shelves for their inspiration and subject matter?

Pop artists used everyday consumer items to democratise art and critique consumerism’s pervasive influence on society. By elevating mundane objects, they challenged traditional notions of artistic subject matter and highlighted the commodification of everyday life.

As a UK artist who uses many pop art elements in my own paintings, in this article I delve into the intersection of pop art and consumer culture, exploring why these artists found inspiration in the objects of everyday life and what their art said about society and growing consumerism of their time.

I’ve written a blog post exploring the origins of the pop art movement – explore this here.

What Items Are Used in Pop Art?

Originating in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain and the United States pop art was a revolutionary movement that simultaneously shocked, intrigued and entertained the art world.

Pop art’s subject matter is as vast and eclectic as the cultural landscape it sought to capture. Beyond just consumer products, pop artists found inspiration in an array of other everyday objects that surrounded them, including:

Road signs, with their bold graphics and universal symbols, became emblematic of the modern urban environment.

Commercial packaging, with its bright colours and catchy slogans, transformed into vibrant motifs adorning canvases.

Advertising, with its seductive imagery and persuasive messages, was reimagined as commentary on the omnipresence of marketing in society.

Brillo pads in the supermarket

Celebrities, whether Hollywood star, music icons or political figures, became subjects of fascination, symbolising the cult of personality and the power of media influence. Read about why Elvis Presley became a key pop art icon here.

Food, with its abundance and variety, represented not just sustenance but also the excesses of consumer culture.

National flags, with their bold colours and potent symbolism, were appropriated to explore themes of patriotism and identity.

Each of these items, seemingly mundane in isolation, collectively formed the fabric of everyday life and mass culture. Pop artists sought to elevate these objects from their mundane existence, imbuing them with new meaning and significance.

By incorporating these familiar symbols and artefacts into their artworks, pop artists invited viewers to reconsider the ordinary, challenging them to see the extraordinary within the banal. In doing so, pop art not only reflected the spirit of its time but also became a mirror held up to society, reflecting its values, aspirations, and contradictions.

'American Trilogy' Elvis pop art by Sir Peter Blake (source: Artsy)
Pop Art using everyday imagery, such as consumer products, celebrities and national flags: ‘American Trilogy’ Elvis pop art by Sir Peter Blake (source: Artsy)

What is Consumerism in Pop Art?

Pop artists used everyday consumer items to democratise art and critique consumerism’s pervasive influence on society. By elevating mundane objects, they challenged traditional notions of artistic subject matter and highlighted the commodification of everyday life. Pop artists questioned the role of consumer goods in shaping individual identity and societal values, prompting viewers to reconsider their relationship with material culture.

Consumerism in the realm of pop art encapsulates the pervasive influence of mass consumption on society, particularly in the post-war era of the 1950s and ’60s. It represents not only the act of purchasing goods but also the larger cultural phenomenon where consumption becomes a defining aspect of identity and societal values.

Pop artists captured the essence of consumerism through their works, depicting the allure of commercial products, the proliferation of advertising, and the commodification of everyday life.

Warhol’s Iconic Imagery

Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans and Coca-Cola bottles, for example, epitomise the mass-produced consumer goods that inundated American society during this period. Through repetition and replication, Warhol emphasised the homogeneity and ubiquity of consumer culture.

Andy Warhol Campbell's Soup Cans at MoMA, New York
Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup Cans at MoMA, New York

Moreover, pop artists often critiqued the superficiality and materialism inherent in consumerist society. Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired artworks, with their exaggerated depictions of consumer desires and emotions, satirised the commodification of human experiences.

Consumerism, in the context of pop art, also played a significant role in shaping individual and collective identities. The products we consume become symbols of status, taste, and belonging, influencing how we perceive ourselves and others. By portraying consumer goods as subjects of art, pop artists forced viewers to confront the extent to which their identities were intertwined with the products they consumed.

In essence, consumerism in pop art serves as a reflection of the consumption-driven society of the post-war era, highlighting both its seductive allure and its profound impact on identity and societal values.

Who would have thought supermarket shelves would inspire so many iconic works of art?

Rebellion Against Elitist and Abstract Art Forms

Pop artists also embraced everyday consumer items as a deliberate rejection of the elitist and abstract forms of art prevalent in the art world of the time. By elevating mundane objects like soup cans and comic strips to the realm of high art, they democratised the artistic landscape, challenging the notion that art should be reserved for the elite or confined to esoteric abstract expressions.

This rebellious act democratised art, making it accessible to a broader audience and blurring the boundaries between high and low culture. Through their bold and irreverent approach, pop artists shattered the conventions of traditional art, paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse artistic expression.

Read more about how pop art rebelled against other art movements in my blog post here.

Why Does Pop Art Use Everyday Consumer Objects?

The embrace of everyday consumer objects by pop artists finds its roots in the historical and cultural context of the 1950s and 1960s, an era marked by significant shifts in technology, society, and consumer behaviour. This period witnessed the rise of post-war prosperity and optimism, with advancements in industrialisation and mass production leading to an abundance of consumer goods.

The emergence of supermarkets revolutionised shopping habits, offering consumers unprecedented choices and convenience. This shift from small-scale retail to large-scale supermarkets profoundly impacted consumer culture, as shopping became not just a necessity but a leisure activity and a symbol of status.

Pop artists, keen observers of these societal changes, responded by incorporating everyday consumer objects into their art. They sought to reflect the reality of contemporary life, where supermarket aisles and commercial advertisements dominated the urban landscape. By depicting familiar products and symbols, pop artists challenged the traditional notions of artistic subject matter and elevated the mundane to the realm of high art.

Through their use of consumer objects, pop artists provided a mirror to society, prompting viewers to confront the pervasive influence of consumer culture on their daily lives. In doing so, they blurred the boundaries between art and everyday experience, inviting audiences to reconsider the value and significance of the objects that surrounded them.

Brillo pads in the supermarket
A modern-day supermarket with the latest Brillo pads packaging (prices are more expensive than in the pop art era!)

Which Artists Explore Consumerism?

Several prominent pop artists are renowned for their exploration of consumerism, each contributing distinctive perspectives to the movement:

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol stands as one of the most iconic figures, renowned for his fascination with consumer culture. His series of Campbell’s Soup Cans epitomises his exploration of everyday supermarket items, transforming mundane products into bold statements of artistic expression.

Similarly, Warhol’s vibrant portrayals of Coca-Cola bottles and Brillo soap pad boxes capture the essence of mass-produced consumer goods. Andy Warhol in fact had a career in advertising before becoming an artist, so it’s no great surprise he had an eye for consumerist critique. Learn more about Warhol’s unique approach to his art in my blog post here.

Limited Edition Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's Soup Cans of soup
Limited Edition Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell’s Soup Cans of soup

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein, known for his comic book-inspired artworks, also delved into consumerism with his distinctive style. His comic strip-inspired paintings – such as “Whaam!” and “Drowning Girl” – take their style from comic magazines, a key consumer media form of the era.

Lichtenstein’s pop art playfully incorporates consumer imagery within it, too, blending elements of popular culture with artistic innovation. Lichtenstein’s style helped inspire my own range of ‘By Kerwin’ pop art music icon paintings – explore my collection and shop prints in my online shop.

Discover another aspect of Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art style – his unique use of ‘Ben-Day’ dots, here.

Whaam! 1963 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997
‘Whaam!’ by Roy Lichtenstein took inspiration from comic books

Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg took consumerism to a new dimension with his monumental sculptures of everyday objects. His oversized sculptures of food items, such as “Giant BLT” and “Floor Cake”, challenge perceptions of scale and materiality, inviting viewers to reconsider the significance of commonplace items.

James Rosenquist

James Rosenquist, with his background in commercial painting, brought a unique perspective to the exploration of consumerism. His colossal canvases, such as “F-111”, juxtapose images of consumer products with political and cultural symbols, offering a commentary on the intersection of consumerism and contemporary society.

Collectively, these artists exemplify the diversity of approaches within pop art and underscore the movement’s enduring relevance in examining the impact of consumer culture on art and society.

Claes Oldenburg inflatable toilet (source: Whitney Museum of American Art)
It’s not quite off the supermarket shelf, but Claes Oldenburg’s inflatable toilet transformed an everyday object into pop art (source: Whitney Museum of American Art)

Were Pop Artists Criticising Consumerism?

The question of whether pop artists were critiquing or celebrating consumerism remains a subject of debate, reflecting the nuanced intentions behind their depictions of consumer goods. Some argue that pop art inherently critiqued consumerism by presenting mass-produced objects in the context of high art.

Artists like Andy Warhol, with his repetitive renditions of consumer products, is often viewed as questioning the commodification and gluttony inherent in consumer culture. Roy Lichtenstein, with his ironic appropriation of commercial imagery, is also labelled as highlighting the superficiality and absurdity of consumer culture.

Through their works, these artists exposed the emptiness of consumerism, highlighting its potential to overshadow authentic human experiences.

Andy Warhol Brillo Box Pop Art
Andy Warhol Brillo Box Pop Art

Not criticising, but merely reflecting consumer society

However, others contend that pop art neither wholly condemned nor glorified consumerism but instead offered a neutral reflection of contemporary society. Claes Oldenburg’s monumental sculptures of everyday objects, for example, can be interpreted as both celebratory and critical, depending on the viewer’s perspective.

Similarly, James Rosenquist’s complex compositions, juxtaposing consumer imagery with political and cultural references, defy easy categorisation, leaving room for multiple interpretations.

Ultimately, the intentions behind pop artists’ engagement with consumerism are multifaceted and varied. While some sought to critique the excesses of consumer culture, others may have embraced its aesthetic and cultural significance.

The diversity of perspectives within pop art underscores its complexity as a movement and invites viewers to engage critically with the relationship between art, commerce, and society.

Andy Warhol's iconic 'banana' pop art album cover for The Velvet Underground | By Kerwin
One of Andy Warhol’s most famous works used a humble banana as the subject

Contemporary Interpretation: Damien Hirst

One of the world’s most famous present-day artists, Damien Hirst, put his own twist on the supermarket-inspired pop art symbols of yesteryear in a 2014 series of works. Hirst mounted replicas of everyday British supermarket products on plinths, offering a modern-day tribute to this iconic quirk of the pop art movement. Pieces in this series (pictured below) included ‘Daz’, ‘Biotext’, ‘Dettol’ and ‘Domestos’.

Damien Hirst supermarket pop art tribute, 2014 (credit: Artificial Gallery)
Damien Hirst supermarket pop art tribute, 2014 (credit: Artificial Gallery)

Exploring Themes Beyond Consumerism: Where else did Pop Artists Seek Inspiration?

While consumerism is a central theme in pop art, the movement also delves into broader cultural phenomena such as mass production, media saturation, and celebrity culture. Pop artists often used these themes to contextualise their portrayal of everyday supermarket items and to offer deeper insights into contemporary society. Food was also a popular theme in pop art – read my blog post dedicated to food (and drink!) in pop art here.

Mass production, for instance, is evident in the repetitive imagery and standardised aesthetics found in pop art. Artists like Andy Warhol emphasised this aspect through their mass-produced prints and serial imagery. Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic use of ‘Ben-Day’ dots in his pop art highlighted the mechanisation and uniformity of consumer goods.

Media saturation is another recurring motif, with pop artists drawing inspiration from the pervasive influence of advertising and mass media. Roy Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired artworks, for example, reflect the omnipresence of popular culture imagery in everyday life, blurring the lines between high and low art.

Pop! Goes The Easel | Solo Art Exhibition by Kerwin Blackburn, Crypt Gallery Norwich November-December 2023 Painted vinyl records
In true pop art spirit, my hand-painted vinyl records turn an everyday object into stunning works of art

The Role of Celebrity in Pop Art

Celebrity culture also features prominently in pop art, with artists often incorporating images of famous figures into their works. Whether it’s Warhol’s portraits of Marilyn Monroe or James Rosenquist’s collages of political and Hollywood icons, celebrity imagery serves as a reflection of society’s obsession with fame and glamour.

My own By Kerwin pop art paintings capture the world’s biggest music icons in my uniquely colourful, Jackson Pollock action painting-inspired style. Explore my full collection and shop prints here, with fast worldwide delivery.

By exploring these additional themes, pop art transcends its initial focus on consumerism, offering a multifaceted commentary on the cultural landscape of the 20th century.

By Kerwin music themed pop art paintings and prints in a chaotic Jackson Pollock style montage 2024
My By Kerwin paintings use music icons as the subject matter


In conclusion, pop art emerged as a revolutionary movement that celebrated the ordinary and challenged the traditional boundaries of art. Through the iconic works of artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and others, pop art transformed everyday consumer objects into symbols of cultural significance, reflecting the zeitgeist of the post-war era.

The enduring impact of pop art on contemporary culture is profound, evident in its influence across various artistic disciplines and its pervasive presence in popular media. By blurring the lines between high and low culture, pop art democratised art, making it more accessible and relevant to a wider audience.

Reflecting On Consumerism In Our Own Lives

As we reflect on the legacy of pop art, it prompts us to reconsider our relationship with consumerism and everyday objects in art. It challenges us to find beauty and meaning in the mundane, encouraging a deeper appreciation for the world around us. Moreover, pop art serves as a reminder of the power of art to provoke thought, spark conversation, and inspire change in society.

Ultimately, pop art invites us to embrace creativity in all its forms and to recognise the artistic potential in the most unexpected places – such as supermarket shelves. It urges us to explore new perspectives, challenge conventions, and reimagine the world through the lens of art. Read my blog post about what can be considered pop art, here.

Lastly, I encourage you to view my own range of ‘By Kerwin’ paintings and prints and see how I’ve re-imagined the world’s favourite music icons, in true pop art spirit.

Do you think pop artists were celebrating or criticising the consumerism they widely depicted in their art? I’d love to your thoughts!. Explore my range of music icon pop art paintings and shop prints in my online shop

Explore my other blog posts on the subject of pop art here. Discover why food was also another important theme in pop art here.

By Kerwin pop art music paintings at The Other Art Fair London panoramic landscape photo

View my full range of Jackson Pollock-inspired pop art paintings and prints of your favourite music and pop culture icons at High-definition printing, fast worldwide delivery and satisfaction guaranteed. You can follow my art progress on Instagram and Facebook.

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