There’s a bunch of pop artists from the Fifties and Sixties that are truly recognisable for their ultra distinctive art. This set them apart from the mainstream by manipulating and taking the mick out of the mainstream. Alongside his counterparts Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein is renowned for his big, bold, fun, comic-book style of painting. In the Sixties the commercial art world absolutely hated his first paintings and even tagged them as crude. But the crude printing processes of newspapers were his ultimate inspiration and by mimicking this style of comic book imagery and advertisements he was portraying the dumbest of the dumbest in American politics and culture.
“Art doesn’t transform. It just plain forms.”
Appropriating the style of Benday dots – the mechanical patterning of dots to convey texture and graduating of colour – this technique forever immortalised his artwork. It’s a stylistic code or visual language that Lichtenstein has become synonymous with. His graphic abilities to arrange the dots according to size and colour are fascinating, I especially like them when combined with split images and diagonal stripes such as in ‘Reflections: Art 1988’. Concerned that all forms of visual language were filtered through codes or language, when combined with ironic or silly narratives, they projected an air of parody with style.
Extremely culturally aware, Lichtenstein would use current affairs and news within his artwork to amplify the reality of American life, the wars going on, and the depiction of female stereotypes in the media. HIs use of My Little Pony in ‘Modern Art II 1996’ highlighted the craze that had built in the press for this new toy. Likewise one of Monet’s water lily paintings sold for millions and was a big news item, so he incorporated a painting around this story. He often combined motifs or styles from different artistic movements in his work (above) where he plays homage to Picasso’s cubist style and Mondrian’s geometric abstraction. His move towards painting landscapes in the Sixties was again due to the cliches of the subject.
It’s mad to think how his paintings now sell for millions and I bet he would consider re-incorporating his own paintings or iconic images into new tongue-in-cheek manifestations.
Whaam! and Drowning Girl are now regarded as Lichtenstein’s most famous works, though he’s not known for his foray into film. The Tate is showing his first and only film on show – a three-screen installation, made after spending two weeks at Universal Studios in 1969. A hybrid of painting, billboard, film and comic strip highlighting the kinetics ‘force of motion’ from shots of Long Island with benday dots and still images.
Alongside his iconic paintings are smaller works that incorporate mixed media, using reflective materials to simulate the play of light or mirror which would suggest an ironic distance in a painting. ‘Wall Explosion II 1965’ is a wooden assemblage of a comic book blast based on his Varoom painting, combining perforated mesh steel to resemble the benday dots and a high-gloss enamel finish for maximum impact.
Until 17th June
Albert Dock, Liverpool