As with all of Tate’s retrospectives, a ticket for this mammoth show should definitely cover two days. 125 examples of his most definitive and often infamous works recount his career from the early ‘60s until the late 1990s; it’s a blast of colour from every corner, fairly unknown pieces interspersed with those which dominated the Pop Art movement.
For me, it was Lichtenstein’s monochromes and vast interiors which were most interesting; however having studied Pop Art through the “oh, Brad!” and “WHAM!”s of Lichtenstein’s romance and war period, it was thrilling to also see these huge polkadot canvases in person.
Lichtenstein’s work never appears particularly profound but perhaps this is where its success lies: the artist explores emotive situations in a flat, comic-bookish way to mirror our own de-sensitivity to sex, violence, power.
Meaningful or not, Lichtenstein’s work can simply be enjoyed for his bold use of garish primary colours and blatant commercialism. His interiors even include previous works of his hung on the walls – twenty years after his career kicked off, already viewing his own work as an essential asset for the home. Slightly egotistical, but humorous all the same.
One huge influence which I hadn’t previously been aware of was Picasso, and in this show Lichtenstein’s reinterpretations of his work are not numerous but are extremely successful: a Pop Artist’s simple linear style combined with the complex acute angles of a Spanish master.
This exhibition certainly recognises an afore unappreciated depth to Lichtenstein’s work – it’s by no means moving, but it remains the product of a great deal of thought, research and careful drawing. Lichtenstein’s draughtsmanship reveals itself to be both accomplished and stylised, and his painting style punchy and unapologetic.
We’ve all seen a Lichtenstein reproduced in book or poster form – or currently pasted all over every London tube line – but these vast paintings must be seen in person for the full comic-book to canvas concept to take effect: postage-stamp sized cells blown up to shout in electric colours and the dizzying pinpricks the man became famous for.