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confession #000059

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

confession #000059

... or, oh, jeff ... i love you too... but ... 
oh, jeff ... i love you too ... but... (1964)
i can't believe it's already been three weeks since i was in london, more or less round about this time - it was saturday as well - viewing the roy lichtenstein retrospective at the tate modern.  before putting fingers to keyboard, in an attempt at making sense of the notes i took post-exhibition, i wanted to find the perfect time so as not to rush it for the sake of writing.  i guess, this glorious yet lazy saturday afternoon hits the spot.

and the word 'spot' is very opportune here.  those of you who may not be familiar with the artist per se, may however be familiar with his work, particularly characterised by the use of bold primary colours, lines and spots - or to be more precise 'ben-day dots'. probably, you do not think of lichtenstein's work as art in the sense of the great renaissance or more 'canonical' artists, because, well, some of his work does resemble comic strips.

but it is exactly that apparent simplicity in his work that, in my opinion renders it so masterful.  much intricate work and even more intricate and intense thought process is revealed once the works are studied.
little big painting (1965)
the exhibition at the tate modern grouped lichtenstein's works in thematic sets.  first up was the theme of brushstrokes - a leit motif in lichtenstein's work.  the brushstroke is the artist's primary tool and produce.  through brushstrokes, the artist creates the images and messages he wants to convey.  lichtenstein stylised the brushstroke in his typical 'comic book' style, even though later he also juxtaposed the stylised brushstroke with more organic swashes of colour.  this juxtaposition was for me, somewhat unnerving, personally being more partial to the more graphic versions.

golf ball (1962)
throughout the exhibition, one was given an insight into how lichtenstein developed his iconic style and how, his style was applied to different art forms.  what particularly struck me - even though it somewhat didn't come as a surprise - was the fact that lichtenstein's sources were 2d images of mundane items.  snippets of adverts for household goods, comic strips, were lifted from newspapers and magazines of his time to form his inspirational scrap books from which he then created his own works.  monochromatic images of tyres, mirrors and other common goods may not be everyone's understanding of fine art. i believe the process of abstracting them from their original context, and glorifying them on large-scale canvasses, is what makes them so.  if this movement towards the glamorisation of the mundane isn't an art form in itself, then i wonder why artists such as lichtenstein and warhol, to name just (probably) the most known two, are revered in such a way.
whaam! (1963)
one of the themes which lichtenstein is best known for, and possibly sits as my favourite, is that of 'war and romance', characterised by masculine assertiveness and feminine submissiveness.  it may come across as blatantly sexist in today's overly politically correct days, but it is definitely a reflection of the time lichtenstein was working in.  these paintings, inspired mostly from the comic strips in his scrap books, show men in fighting scenes, flying planes, surrounded with bold red fires and explosions.  on the other hand, women are depicted in forlorn situations, noticeably either in tears or about to cry.
drowning girl (1963)
what adds to the power of these images is the feeling that 'something is about to happen / has just happened'.  lichtenstein manages to capture moments and the viewer finds him/herself with a million questions as to what led to that instant and what will happen next.  a case in point: interior with nude leaving (1997). has the door bell rung? is she waiting on a lover? is she seeing off a lover? has she been caught unawares? it is up to the viewer to decide.
interior with nude leaving (1997)
i feel i must come clean here.  up until the exhibition, my only exposure of lichtenstein was through his more popular works oh!jeff ..., whaaam! and explosion. so i confess that i was not prepared to see his renditions of works by picasso and monet among others, in pure lichtenstein style.  i was taken aback, but in a good way.  i found that lichtenstein sort of preempted banksy's early works of 'vandalising' canonical works of art, making them a stand-alone masterpiece of their own.  my personal favourite is this portrait of a blonde which starts off in pure lichtenstein style and morphs into something purely cubist.  on further research i found there is also a bull which could very easily have popped out of picasso's guernica half way through the process.
portrait triptych study (1974) 
the later works seem to evoke a feeling of serenity, a feeling that is typically conveyed by chinese paintings throughout the centuries ... a feeling that is a far cry from his more typical, eye-popping works which have rendered him so famous.
landscape with scholar's rock (1997)
regrettably, i can't encourage you to visit this exhibition if you're in london, since i myself visited it during its last weekend at the end of may.  however, if you haven't had the opportunity to visit, or if through this piece i have managed to tempt you into finding out more about roy lichtenstein, i invite you to watch this bbc piece on the exhibition.  enjoy!

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