Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein (Hatton Gallery, Newcastle)

Roy Lichtenstein is an artist who’s work I feel a great deal of familiarity with despite not knowing a huge amount about him. Lichtenstein was a pioneer of the pop art movement and his most famous work appropriates both the content and aesthetic of the comic book, although he exaggerates and distorts by either enlarging the image to a huge size or cropping to focus on details. I like the way Hal Foster described his work as the “handmade readymade” – a description that both recognises the craft and skill that Lichtenstein put into his paintings and the conceptual underpinning of his practice:

“His work was…not industrially mechanised, but blending careful techniques of handwork (drawing, tracing, painting, emphasising brushstroke, line and Ben-Day dot) with the reproduction and screening of found images.” (Churchwell, 2013)

Two Nudes (1994) Left, Nude Reading (1994) Right

The exhibition features a couple of examples of work from the 1960s that could be classed as typical examples of pop art, but, focuses mainly on his late period work from the 1990s such as the reflection and nudes series’. As well as pop culture, Lichtenstein also applies his signature style to ‘master’ painters – responses to the work of Monet and Picasso are featured in the exhibition. While there is often irony and humour present in Lichtenstein’s work, Livingstone (2019) states that Lichtenstein took great delight in re-imaging familiar works of art. This is something I would definitely agree with, and also something that is present throughout his work – despite the clear way the source material for his paintings is directly on show, there is also a clear creative ‘voice’ present:

“There is never a sense of him trying to deceive the viewer, or of passing off a found image as his own; the pleasure, on the contrary, lies in the affectionate translation of sources clearly identifiable to educated viewers into a composition of graphic clarity and economy that rejects the personal handwriting of brushwork, but that paradoxically could not have emerged from any studio but his own.” (Livingstone, 2019)

Brushstroke (1965)
Explosion (1965-6)

Out of all of the work on show, I found the reflections series the most inspirational. Many of these revisit famous images previously made by Lichtenstein but feature metalised stripes across the composition which disrupt and abstract the image as well as making a comment about mirrors due to the reflective nature of the material. The exhibition notes draw attention to the way the stripes give a sense of depth by emphasising the foreground and background of the pictures which is normally absent in Lichtenstein’s work as it is defined by the deliberate flatness of the compositions. Lichtenstein himself is quoted as saying he made the work as an excuse to make abstract work – a typically light hearted response that does not make the more studied reading any less true.

Reflections on Minerva (1990) Left, Reflections on Conversation (1990) Right
Reflections on Crash (1990)
Reflections on the Scream (1990)
Reflections on Girl (1990)

This exhibition was a revelation to me and is particularly relevant at this moment as thoughts about how I can interpret the brief for assignment 2 is very much on my mind. The brief for this asks that we use archive or readily available images as our starting point – the way Lichtenstein transformed the work he appropriated, particularly the abstraction that is present in the reflections series, could be a way of working I can incorporate myself.

Links:

Bibliography:

Churchwell, S. (2013) Roy Lichtenstein: from heresy to visionary. The Guardian, 23rd February 2013. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/23/roy-lichtenstein-heresy-to-visionary (accessed 7th January 2020)

Fentiman, C. (2019) Review – Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein. Corrridor8. Available at: https://corridor8.co.uk/article/artist-rooms-roy-lichtenstein/ (accessed 5th January 2020)

Livingstone, M. (2019) Pop goes the past. Tate etc. Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/tate-etc/issue-27-spring-2013/pop-goes-past (accessed 7th January 2020)

National Galleries Scotland (s.d.) Roy Lichtenstein Learning Resource. Available at: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/features/roy-lichtenstein-learning-resource (accessed 7th January 2020)

The Crack (2019) Art Editorial: The Art of Poise. The Crack Magazine. Available at: https://www.thecrackmagazine.com/view-editorial/6664 (accessed 5th January 2020)

Whetstone, D. (2019) Artist Rooms Roy Lichtenstein at the Hatton Gallery. Only In Newcastle. Available at: https://www.only-in-newcastle.co.uk/blog/artist-rooms-roy-lichtenstein-at-the-hatton-gallery/ (accessed 5th January 2020)