Roy Lichtenstein, Dude

22 June 2012 | 12:38 pm | Bethany Small

Bethany Small and NGA curator Jaklyn Babington chat about Roy Lichtenstein, pop art, romance, war comics and nude girls.

Sometimes it's difficult to think of anything with which to introduce a person beyond their name, with some exclamation marks maybe and possibly a “Dude:” as a preface. Roy Lichtenstein is like that. So, “Dude: Roy Lichtenstein!” He's a seminal first-generation pop artist with an instantly recognisable style. Those painstakingly-rendered articially mechanical-looking Ben-Day dots are coming to the QUT Art Museum courtesy of the National Gallery of Australia. The exhibtion, Roy Lichtenstein: Pop remix, contains works that follow Lichtenstein's work from the 1950s to the 1990s, contextualised with archival photographic and film documentation of his artistic process. That explore his vitally important collaborations with various print workshops, and particularly master printmaker Kenneth Tyler.

According to NGA curator Jaklyn Babington, “the exhibition contains Lichtenstein's best known pop prints, including his remixes of romance and war comics, brushstrokes and nude girls.” It also represents his appropriation of styles and techniques from art history, reworked through the iconography of his own style. “Lichtenstein is kind of the first artists who start to really use appropriation as their sole art strategy,” says Babington. “Once he finds his style he starts applying that style to imagery that's appropriated from an art movement, that's part of why Lichtenstein's so popular. Of course other artists and art movements have used appropriation throughout art history, however Lichtenstein's works are very important in terms of postmodernism, as appropriation is a central tenet of the movement.”

Lichtenstein's appropriations come from both 'high art' and popular culture. The masterpiece and the comic book are treated on a level playing field. There's no differentiation between the cultural importance or longevity generally imputed to the masterpiece or the comic-book scene: both are reconstructed in Lichtenstein's visual language without affective modulation. Quintessentially pop is the style itself in its deliberate mimicry of the mass-produced. “Pop Art is a medium of multiplicity,” explains Babington, “and making the artwork resemble something mass-produced by a machine, something that isn't a completely unique object, is like the opposite of Abstract Expressionism, which had been dominant in American art for decades when pop emerged.”

“With Abstract Expressionism, it's all about the artist as genius, you have the figure of someone like Pollock or de Kooning as the creative genius. It's about expressing something from within them,” says Babington. “Pop is completely different to that: it's not about separating art and life, the commercial and the everyday are a part of it. And Pop re-introduces the figurative and rather than the individual brushstroke of the artist there's the goal of making the artworks look pre-programmed or done by a machine.”

The desire to recreate the visual effects of mass-production are vital to considering Lichtenstein's work: “over time and together with print workshops, he developed highly technical means of creating his particular look,” says Babington.

Roy Lichtenstein: Pop Remix runs from Friday 29 June to Sunday 26 August at QUT Art Museum.

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