Last February the Tate Modern opened the UK's first retrospective of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in 20 years. With around 125 works on display, the show looked back on the career of an artist central to a movement which changed the way the world thought about art, aiming to explore his lesser known work as well as the pop-art behemoths.
Lichtenstein's comic book images of the 1960's are instantly recognisable to anyone with a passing interest in contemporary art, and it's his use of Ben Day dots which give the paintings their distinctive cartoon effect. The technique gets its name from its illustrator inventor, who used small, equally spaced coloured dots to create the effect of colours and shading. Lichtenstein used the style throughout his career, on sculptures as well as landscapes.
Art or plagiarism?
The cartoonists from which Lichtenstein appropriated his images weren't always happy for the exposure, and debate still goes on today about whether works like In the Car, which sold for $16.2 million in 2005, should really be classed as art at all. Some argue that Lichtenstein's process of handpicking and isolating the images is an artistic one which provokes new thoughts and ideas, and the resulting paintings are therefore artworks in their own right. Others say it's cartoonists such as Irv Novick, whose original drawing was the source material for 1963's Whaam!, who should be given credit for the iconic images.
Another popular '60s series was Brushstrokes, a nod to his early forays into abstract expressionism where the application of the paint was often used as primary means of expression. Lichtenstein injected humour into much of his work, and his decision to take something as emotional as the artist's brush stroke and present it as mechanical, with no actual brush strokes visible at all in the painting other than the oversized subject, could be seen as a satire of his own work and the art world itself.
Although best known for his '60s cartoon style, Lichtenstein's body of work also included art-deco influenced sculpture, still life, Chinese landscapes and re-workings of Picasso, said to be his biggest influence. The Tate's exhibition aims to showcase these different sides to an artist often pigeonholed as 'the comic book guy'.
Lichtenstein himself reportedly said he couldn't understand why people would pay money for "used canvases". Despite this, his are among some of the most expensive and collectable used canvases in the apparently recession-proof world of contemporary art. 1964's Sleeping Girl broke the record for the most paid for a Lichtenstein last year, fetching $44.9 million (around £26 million).
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