The connection between neon and Pop Art seems an obvious one, but neon was never actually employed by Pop artist at the time.
Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam!, 1963
Pop Art was born in Britain and the US in the 1950s, during the economic boom that took place after WWII. It started as a broadly characterized artistic movement, which, instead of repudiating and criticizing the increase in materialism and consumerism, gave in to its pervasive presence – eventually turning it into a celebration of itself.
Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962
The intuitive - though indirect - link to neon, lies in Pop Art’s close association with advertising; an industry that, as Mad Men fans will know, was flourishing in the 50s and 60s as a consequence (or cause) of the increased consumerism. At the same time, the increase in advertising had brought about a boost in the use of neon, which had been cast aside after its first boom in popularity during the 1920s.
So, though many artists were using advertising imagery and language as their main source of inspiration to create Pop Art – and neon was experiencing a huge upsurge in the advertising industry – nobody thought of bringing the two together.
It would take an outsider from France visiting New York in the early 60s to connect the language of popular culture and neon: the first Pop Art neon was unveiled by Martial Raysse in 1964 and it was called “America, America”.
Martial Raysse, America America, 1964
Coming from the movement of French Nouveau Realisme, Raysse is said to have combined minimalism and Pop Art, consequently becoming the only French artist to qualify to be part of the artistic movement, which was otherwise confined to the UK and the US. The work also happens to be the artwork holding the record for the most expensive piece sold by a living French artist.