As someone who knew little about Lichtenstein’s work before visiting TATE Liverpool’s exhibition, I strongly recommend you pay it a visit. Some of his work is probably familiar to you, if not directly then through its many appropriations in pop culture and advertisements. Iconic cartoon-style explosions and exaggerated comic-strip-style images can be seen everywhere. The bold, eye-catching colours and shapes in his work are hard to miss… it’s no wonder advertisers make such use of it!
This is what struck me first when visiting the exhibition: how bright and exciting each of Lichtenstein’s images were. Presented in a spacious white room with grey pillars that frame the work as you walk around, it was noticeable how each artwork, not just the most famous works – In The Car or Whaam, make you stop and stare.
The exhibition leads you chronologically through Lichtenstein’s artwork, giving brief details about his influences and diverse range of media (they even display one of Lichtenstein’s decorated dinner sets).
Much of Lichtenstein’s most influential work was produced the 1960s, which lent a back drop of Female Liberation, the Civil Rights movement and Gay Pride. Just as the political movements of the ’60s rebelled against the previous societal boundaries, Lichtenstein’s work rebelled against the constraints of the modernist art movements of the previous decades by employing accessibility and simplicity.
This isn’t to say that Lichtenstein didn’t respect these artists; he actually pays homage to Claude Monet with a parody of Monet’s famous Waterlilies. This is a stunning revamp which incorporates Lichtenstein’s own comic-strip style and the use of metallic and holographic materials – one of my personal favourites from the exhibition.
Lichtenstein also created art in reaction to the Vietnam war, also known as ‘The Televised War’. For the first time people were able to witness the violence from the (dis)comfort of their living rooms – as if they were watching a film, not real people. Lichtenstein satirises this with his fun and colourful explosions. One such piece stands out in the exhibition: a sculpture made of acrylic and metal in shiny reds and oranges that depicts a cartoon explosion that is made to look pretty, unreal and exciting, rather than deadly.
Artists have always taken inspiration from the world around them- people, objects, landscapes. For Lichtenstein this world was a 2D one, surrounded by a landscape of images in the media and advertisements. In the exhibition he is quoted saying his work is a comment on “advertising’s saturation of both landscape and painting”.
For this reason, I think Lichtenstein’s pop art is extremely relatable and accessible even for those who may have little interest or knowledge of art movements. The subject matter is familiar and relevant, making the exhibition undeniably engaging.
ARTIST ROOMS: Roy Lichtenstein In Focus exhibition is free and running until June 2018!