OK so, last Tuesday I swapped our interior design showroom in Farnham for Tate Modern and Lichtenstein. I went in not knowing what to expect. I knew nothing about Roy Lichtenstein, his art or, really, his time and influences. A cartoonist – right? Around in the 1960s – right? Just like Warhol….
Not a bit of it. And this is what I love about going to good exhibitions: you go in with some preconceptions and come out with a whole new perspective on things.
Lichtenstein’s wry reflection on the relevance of painting in an age when so much could be mechanically reproduced provides a fascinating backdrop to his pictures. He carefully uses images from adverts and comics and uses primary colours, black outlines and Benday dots to get that shadowy effect produced by machines. His pain stakingly careful, mechanical depiction of a brushstroke which in essence is a spontaneous and expressive thing is fabulous in this context.
He doesn’t stop at pondering over the age of machines: some of his larger than life reproductions of adverts provide a commentary on the consumer culture of the time and in hindsight this is very enlightened. In ‘Sponge’ and ‘Spray’ female hands are cleaning and spraying – highlighting the popular and accepted view of the time of women as an extension of the household appliance.
He also produces his own versions of relatively well-known paintings by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and, most surprisingly of all, Monet. A series of the latter’s Rouen Cathedral painted in two tones and using dots is really quite something. Picasso is his hero though and he produces several ‘pop’ versions of Picasso’s paintings retaining the complexity of the original but giving it a seemingly very simple skin.
My friend’s favourite room in the exhibition was Lichtenstein’s Chinese Landscapes. Here he successfully uses the very stylised Chinese landscape paintings and mixes in typical Lichtenstein ingredients: Benday dots, simple forms, a simple palette. Atmospheric and delicate.
If you can, go and see it. It is on until 27th May.