In 1961, at the age of 38, Roy Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey. This work would set the course of his career and we will be showing it at the beginning of the upcoming exhibition at Tate Modern. This was the first time Lichtenstein copied cartoon characters, in particular Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck from his sons’ Little Golden Book.

Roy Lichtenstein Look Mickey 1961

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Look Mickey 1961
National Gallery of Art, Washington

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

Within a couple of years, Lichtenstein would become one of the foremost American Pop artists. In the early 1960’s his work broke with the canon of Abstract Expressionism – the style in vogue in America – with a new concept of painting inspired by industrial printing processes and subject matter taken from comic books and advertising imagery.

The adoption of the Pop style would bring him international acclaim; so much so an art critic even wrote that, for most of the world, Lichtenstein ‘was born’ at the Leo Castelli gallery in 1962 at an exhibition that provoked opposite reactions of horror and delight from its visitors.

Today it seems hard to imagine the shock that these works produced at the time. Lichtenstein appropriated commercials and comics, monumentalizing images of consumerism and domesticity idiosyncratic to the American landscape, such as the below dead-pan single object painting Tire 1962. There will be a room in Tate Modern’s show devoted to this series of black and white paintings, characterized by the clarity and refinement of their composition.

Roy Lichtenstein Tire 1962

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Tire 1962
Private collection

Private collection
© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012

Lichtenstein’s early Pop work featured an entirely new style based on reproduction, appropriation and parody, mimicking the techniques and styles of printed matter, but without ever renouncing the traditional hand-painted canvas. He continued to draw inspiration from this tension between fine art and commercial art throughout his career.

Whilst many of his most iconic Pop paintings have paradoxically been widely reproduced since, there is always something revelatory in experiencing them in the flesh. Nothing can replace standing in front of the works themselves and this exhibition will offer a unique opportunity to do so. The ambiguities brought about by these hand-painted images, which look as if they were made by a machine, are truly remarkable.

Comments

John Winchester

Wasn't quite sure whether I'd enjoy this-delighted to say I did and it stood up quite well against others I've enjoyed. Only criticism, and small at that, was that some of the works looked a little dowdy - interested to hear if anyone else thought the same. Otherwise, great fun and I particularly enjoyed the sculptures which I found to be strong in their presentation and a pleasant break from the 2d pieces.

Geoffcox

My second visit. I've always enjoyed Lichtenstein more than other Pop Art, I think it's the affection and humour in the work, somehow warmer than Warhol, for example. This exhibition has a wonderful range of work reflecting that. I saw a smaller exhibition, at the Hayward about ten years ago but this one has much more variety.As well as the obvious, I liked the landscapes, few of which I had seen, and the nudes which were new to me as well as the deco style sculptures. I was instantly transported back to the Swiss Cottage Odean of my childhood ! A truly wonderful exhibition to which I shall return.