Popular Art: What Inspires You?

Gathering your examples of popular art, inspired by our Enid Marx exhibition.


  • Exhibitions

This summer we’re taking inspiration from Enid Marx and celebrating popular art. We want to see your drawings and photographs of all the weird and wonderful collectable – and not so collectable – objects that enrich our lives as people and as illustrators.

Enid Marx was a keen collector of popular art and among her collection were painted jugs, celebratory mugs, models in glass bottles, a sailor’s flask, carved wooden honey-cake moulds, piggy banks, clay pipes and a decorated rolling pin.

These objects were a source of inspiration for her. Some of her drawings of items in her collection are on show in our exhibition, many alongside the objects themselves.

Help us define what popular art means by contributing a drawing or photo of a piece of popular art – whether historical or contemporary – that you really like. 

How to contribute:

Tweet us a drawing or photo of a piece of popular art that inspires you (one entry per person) by including all three of the following: #popularart #EnidMarx @illustrationhq

All will be included in downloadable publication and our favourite drawing or photo will win a set of three mini Enid Marx notebooks and a pair of tickets to House of Illustration.

What is popular art?

In English and Popular Traditional Art (1946) Enid Marx and her life-long friend Margaret Lambert, a historian, defined popular art as ‘the art which ordinary people have created for their own lives in contrast to the “fine arts” made for special patrons’.

Enid Marx talked about popular art as a ‘usable past’. Her collection of ephemera was a source of inspiration for her work as a textile designer, printmaker and illustrator.

More background: Enid Marx on Popular Art

English and Popular Traditional Art was designed to give ‘an intimate picture of the feelings and sympathies, likes and dislikes of many generations of ordinary people.’

There followed a second book, English Popular Art, by Marx and Lambert in 1951. That year, Marx was invited by the Society for Education in art to curate an exhibition on the subject of popular art, to coincide with the Festival of Britain. She didn’t like their approach, which she said “was  to link it with Child Art!”

In the end, one of Marx’s contemporaries, the painter and writer Barbara Jones (1912-78) picked up the job and curated the Popular Art showing in the Festival of Britain to her own particular taste. In Enid Marx: The Pleasure of Pattern, our exhibition co-curator Alan Powers explains the difference between the approaches of these two contemporaries:

“Jones placed no limits of period or taste on Popular Art . . . her intention was to include more recent manifestations such as ‘Gear for ballroom dancing, motor-bikes, immediate post-Teddy skin heads, Hells Angels . . . Embellishments for sex and fetishism, and their literature;, none of which are remotely conceivable in a Marx and Lambert universe.

Marx, by contrast, insisted that Popular Art should be restricted to objects which, even if industrially made, retained the innocence of folk art.”

What’s your definition?

Tell us by sending us a drawing or photo of an important popular art object in your life. We look forward to seeing your work!

Above: "'Talisman' designed by Susan Williams Ellis for Portmeirion Pottery" - Angela Birchall‏ (@all_at_sea_)

Below:  "Inspired by Mr W. Morris and his strawberry thief." - Debbie Eyre (@debelzing)

Above: "My favourite object of popular art . A Chinese vase which makes me imagine another world." - Laura Torres‏ (@ToshtliUsagi) *Winning entry*

Above: "Folk Art that inspires. Drawing of a Staffordshire figure - a rather nervous looking Alfred Mynne." - Neil Hadfield‏ (@WimblinNeil)

Below: "Love the idea how Enid Marx was inspired by daily objects incorporating decorative art... Personally I always enjoy looking at local bakery’s birthday cakes." - Che Chen (@drwormholes)