Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Rouen Cathedral Set V’, Oil and Magna on Canvas, 1969

When you think about pop art, what are the images that come to mind? Second only to the multiple Marilyns of Warhol, I’d say the first image you’re thinking of is the giant blown up war comic of one plane firing a torpedo into another, in one of the most famous art images of all timeRoy Lichtenstein’s ‘WHAAM!’. But what else do comes to mind if I say Roy Lichtenstein? Sure, the weeping women lamenting Brad, but what else? Coming to the Tate’s Roy Lichtenstein retrospective, I realised that apart from these two sets, I knew next to nothing about one of the geniuses of pop art.

Luckily, this exhibition tries it upmost to introduce the many periods of his work to us, even when it’s at the behest of his reputation – the later works paling in comparison to his 60s genius, coming across as busy, jumbled and crowded where those early works had been controlled, precise and iconic. I’d argue there’s a tipping point in his work – from the strict five colours of his classic work which leave you longing for green to his later works, where with green come all the colours. I mean, come on; works in pale orange and beige aren’t just going to have the striking appeal and blacks, reds and greens – there’s a reason Picasso didn’t have a beige period!

That said, when Lichtenstein’s ideas are solid he is truly a genius. Having only really seen his paintings in books (ironically for an artist so obsessed with copying print culture…) , what’s interesting about them is their slight imperfections, that comfortingly tell you that they’re paintings. His pop art studies of brushstrokes, nudes, mirrors and famous artworks are that rare combinations of conceptually ingenious and  visually stunning, with his versions of Monet’s ‘Rouen Cathedral’ a particular highlight. Also, the curators have done a great job, highlighting the influence of abstract expressionism on him – shame all the work doesn’t live up to this great curating, though…


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