- Tate Modern
Lichtenstein was one of the many appropriators of the 60’s, appropriation basically was Pop Art. Whether it was taken out of the skip by Rauschenberg, pilfered from the commercial art in the supermarket aisle by Warhol or stripped from the comic books, it was all relevant ‘source material’. Who created the original imagery is irrelevant, it is a kitsch cycle of fine art inspiring commercial art which in turn inspired fine art.
It is obvious that the Pop Artists shamelessly stole from the commercial artists. We are not under the impression that Campbell’s Soup tins were created by Warhol, so I was surprised to read that people are still so shocked and upset by Lichtenstein’s cartoons, although this represents only a small element of his work; he also ripped-off the masters, newspaper ads and Chinese landscape paintings. Clearly we know and understand that illustrators produced the original items but fortunately it is not the re-representation of these images that is the art in question, it is the implied ideas that the artist puts forward. Lichtenstein used Picasso’s imagery, Picasso stole from Goya, Goya was influenced by Velazquez, who was inspired by Caravaggio, Caravaggio stylistically represented Titian, and so it goes on. The designer who created the Coca Cola bottle would have been influenced by things around him, it is extremely challenging being an artist if you don’t observe, and how can you possibly observe without becoming affected in someway.
It is also true to say that it is important for the viewer to have a posteriori knowledge to fully appreciate a work, yet without it the painting still needs to work as a balanced composition which is easy on the eye. The motifs Lichtenstein used in his studio paintings for example, might be missed by some, such as the fish in the bowl or the dancers on the wall but not appreciating the reference doesn’t prevent the viewers enjoyment. Lichtenstein appreciated this and worked on his compositions, using rotating easels (turning his works upside down) and mirrors to view his paintings stripped of sense.
I loved Lichtenstein’s wit, I couldn’t help but smile when seeing even the familiar paintings, their scale put a whole new spin on them as did seeing the prep work under the paint of his earlier pictures. The only thing I found missing was my favourite painting. At the turn of the 60’s Lichtenstein struggled with the idea of Abstract Expressionism, the art of the previous art movement in America, the art of his tutors and possibly a style on the wane. His own attempts at the style lacked emotion, the colours were too bright and jolly leaving a complicated mass of brush strokes. A rebellious relationship he is said to have depicted in ‘Look Mickey’ (1961) [where Donald is RL and Mickey represents the Abs. Expressionist] and ‘Popeye’ (1961) [who’s played by RL with Bluto again the Abs. Expressionists]. I think he more subtly paints this association in ‘I Can See the Whole Room!… and There’s Nobody in it!’ (1961) where he seems to be hinting at the Colour Field artists like Reinhardt and Kelly, with the black canvas and the suggestion that no one is in the gallery looking at the work. However, I guess it would have been totally out of place at the Tate, as the gallery was packed with viewers, students sketching, and people trying to sneak photos with their iPhones; there was something that seemed to capture the interest of everyone.