Popkov was one of the leading artists of the Severe Style. In 1948–1952 he studied at MVHPU and continued his studies at the Surikov Moscow State Institute of Fine Art. In 1975 he was posthumously awarded The State Prize of the USSR. Popkov started his artistic career during the "Thaw". In 1950–1960 the artist travelled extensively, visiting Irkutsk, Bratsk and other Siberian cities which were the sites of intensive construction work. This led to the painting of one of his masterpieces The Bratsk Hydropower Station (1961 Tretyakov Gallery). In the mid-1960s Popkov totally changed his style. His marriage to Klara was under strain and he had attempted suicide. Popkov's personality is very much in evidence in his paintings and he freely expressed his opinion of human beings and the world at large.
His work pinpointed the theme of a lost generation whose lives had been traumatised by the Great Patriotic War (The Mezen Widows Cycle, 1966–1968). The self-portrait occupies a special place in the artist's work (Father's Overcoat 1970–1972). Popkov died in an accident in 1974.