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More Than a Comic Strip Artist: The Man Who Made Art Pop
If you visit the Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective at Tate Modern you'll understand why Lichtenstein was more than just a pop artist. The thirteen rooms of this retrospective, co-organised with the Art Institute of Chicago, will walk you through a thought provoking collection of his artworks beginning in the late 1950s and culminating in his Chinese landscapes of the 1990s. Even if you think you have some kind of knowledge of his well-known pieces through seeing them as prints, nothing prepares you for the impact of observing these huge canvasses up close.
The rooms begin with Brushstrokes: a series of paintings that he defined as 'the brushstroke becomes the depiction of a grand gesture'. His brushstrokes were controlled, and not a spontaneous expression of feelings, as they were with contemporary abstract expressionists.
Early Pop depicts his experimentation with cartoon imagery, an example of which is Look Mickey taken from an illustration in a book that belonged to one of his sons. This section also includes his versions of visual ads, such as Sponge and Spray, which depicted women (complete with red painted nails) as an extension of household appliances.
War and Romance is a room that reminds us of the subjects that made the painter famous. He based these works on comic books, including All-American Men of War and Girls' Romances. You can see examples of the comic books and compare them to his re-workings of similar illustrations: the women generally having retroussť noses and beautiful almond shaped eyes, whilst the men tend to sport strong chiselled jaws, and the rockets and weaponry take on a life of their own.
Landscapes/Seascapes is a venture into something a little less graphic and sensational. There is still movement, but it is the shifting action of clouds or waves and the painter creates these works using a different artistic medium.
Modern harks back to Lichtenstein's childhood in the New York of the 1930s. The art deco lines, curves and shapes of that period are referred to in the sculptures and paintings on display in this room.
Art about Art is the painter's dialogue with other artists. Among the examples on display is Femme d'Alger, which references Picasso's Women of Algiers.
Mirrors and Entablatures is an engagement with Lichtenstein's representations of vision and perception, as well as his interest in classical Entablature. He described the latter (the decorative band at the top of a classical column) as 'a Minimalist painting that has a Classical reference'. His Entablatures were created from photographs he took around Wall Street.
Perfect/Imperfect is an opportunity to see some of his lesser known works that explore geometric fields of colour. He created these by drawing a line along a canvas, following it and returning to its starting point. The spaces were then filled with diagonal lines, Benday dots and coloured areas.
From Alpha to Omega returns to a group of early paintings engaging with abstract expressionism that are brought together with a series produced in 1996 (the same period as the nudes) and called 'obliterating brushstrokes'. These are a juxtaposition of geometric forms filled in with with hand-painted brushstrokes.
The retrospective winds up with some late works from the mid-1990s, and a style that you would not associate with the artist. These are a series of Chinese Landscapes that use many different sizes of dots to communicate the subtleties of Chinese landscapes.
Just to entice you a little further and to convince you that Roy Lichtenstein was a made who made art pop, watch this short video produced by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Whilst the retrospective is at the Tate there will also be events that include a Lichtenstein Dinner, a film installation, talks, lectures, courses, workshops and a conference. Further information is available on the website.