Roy Lichtenstein was one of the most famous and influential figures of the American pop art movement, and you can see a large portion of his work at a special exhibition at the Tate Modern Museum. Lichtenstein defined the premise of pop art through his use of parody, which is reflected in his homages and recreations of famous art styles and paintings. He is perhaps most well known for his concept of painting inspired by comic strips, advertising, and mass/pop culture imagery. The exhibition is organized in a way that places the focus on Lichtenstein's art; the white walls and categorized rooms allow you to easily navigate his work and see his progression in style. Lichtenstein's paintings varied from his take on brushstrokes, to pop art featuring pop culture figures like Mickey Mouse, to black and white images, and to Chinese-inspired landscapes. This is a fascinating and surprisingly in-depth exhibition that is well worth the entry fee.
|Look Mickey, Lichtenstein|
Lichtenstein was known for referencing other forms of art in his work and through his parodies almost deconstructing the art form itself. For example, his series of brushstroke paintings are seen as parodies of abstract expressionism that were popular in American art in the 1950's. Whereas other artists such as Jackson Pollock sought to present their brushstrokes as impulsive, Lichtenstein showed the brushstroke as the result of a carefully controlled act. His paintings in this series are also a prime example of how color and perspective can be used in abstract expressionism to create different images. Lichtenstein's early paintings in room 2 showcase his early foray into paintings' featuring cartoon imagery and a comic-book style aesthetic. His 1961 painting Look Mickey was an artistic breakthrough for him, as it set the precedent for his future pop art paintings. Lichtenstein would mimic popular art while applying his own aesthetic and formal order to his paintings. Writing of pop art and Lichtenstein, the critic Roland Barthes said “There are two voices, as in a fugue. One says 'This is not Art'; the other says, at the same time, 'I am Art.'” This quote serves as an accurate description of Lichtenstein's art, as at first glance it appears to be nothing more than homage and pop culture pastiche, but when you look closer you see that it also provokes emotion in you and reflects the Lichtenstein's own artistic sensibilities.
Lichtenstein's work on landscapes and seascapes are unique in how they bare down the elements of the sea and sky to a series of horizontal lines and pointillism inspired circles. The result is a series of almost abstract representations of landscapes. A couple of my favorites from this section include Sea Shore and Sunrise. Both paintings exhibit the features that would come to define his landscape work: bright, contrasting colors, many circles forming the background, and a comic-book aesthetic. This comic-book look would apply to the rest of his art styles, and you can see how he mixes his style with the artists of the past he admires. Lichtenstein himself stated that “the things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire.” His appreciation for these works is seen in his interpretations of famous works, where he applies his pop aesthetic to traditionally high-art pieces, challenging views of what is art and what is simply “low-art” parody. For example, Lichtenstein's 1963 painting Femme d'Alger transforms Picasso's 1955 painting Women of Algiers into an abstract piece of pop art. The original qualities that made Picasso's piece so unique remain intact, yet Lichtenstein is also able to give the painting new life through his take on the piece. This parody of traditional art forms is also seen in Lichtenstein's interpretations of the nude. His painting Blue Nude shows how he applies a pulpy, erotic appeal to what is traditionally seen as a noble art form. At the same time, the piece remains a beautiful painting as well. The starkness of the woman's features such as her bright green eyes, blonde hair, and red lips contrast with the dullness of her pale, white body. The final room features perhaps the biggest departure in Lichtenstein's traditional style, as he chose to spend his final years painting Chinese landscapes which were inspired by the simplicity of Chinese art. Paintings such as Landscape with Philosopher and Landscape with Boat retain his pointillism inspired backgrounds while introducing images that recall traditional Chinese calligraphy and floral imagery. By the end of the exhibition, you will have seen a wide variety of art that reflects the artist Lichtenstein, whose singular passion for art is represented by all the images you will see.
|Lichtenstein Exhibition, Tate Modern|
Although pop art incites a decisive reaction amongst people, the Lichtenstein exhibition is truly a defining series of paintings that showcases the pinnacle of achievement in the field. Asking people around the exhibition, I got responses from “this is fascinating” and “thought-provoking” to less enthusiastic ones where people relayed an inability to connect to the art or feel anything from it. However, I think if you spend some time here you will see that this art does provoke a response in you, and the exhibition features some of the most interesting art you will see at the Tate Modern.
-By Phillip Storm, Arts Correspondent, VisitMuseums.com