Lichtenstein A Retrospective at Tate Modern

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I visited this exhibition last week and was very impressed. The paintings are incredibly familiar ( at least, the 60s pop art pictures) but to see them full size in a gallery is a monumental experience. They are huge. This is what gives them their power.

Lichtenstein has been accused of being shallow and only concerned with surface but there is a suprising depth in much of the work in this exhibition. The Late Nudes and Chinese Landscapes are particularly affecting. The landscapes enhance and yet subvert the Japanese originals by their sheer size  but the use of dots is incredibly subtle and project a calm atmosphere.

This is what the program notes say about the nudes:

Unlike many artists, Lichtenstein did not use live models for his depictions of the female body; instead he returned to his archive of comic clippings to select female characters as subjects – and then literally undressed them, by imagining their bare bodies under their clothes before painting them as nude.

The paintings Nudes with Beach Ball 1994 and Blue Nude 1995 are examples of his late approach to the nude, brought together at a huge scale in original compositions of single, double and group portraits. The result is a disturbing violation of conventions. The noble nude has been rendered as erotic graphic pulp; the paintings propose her large schematic bland body as an object of desire, yet she experiences desire as well, often captured in a state of reverie or bliss. Like Picasso and Matisse before him, Lichtenstein’s fascination with the painter/model relationship reaches a new level of intimacy and sensuality, meshed with the formal concerns of his painting.

Blue Nude
Blue Nude
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II, 1952, gouache déc...
Henri Matisse, Blue Nude II, 1952, gouache découpée, Pompidou Centre, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His reimagining of works by other artists also display a greater depth than some people might have thought. He covers many different periods and brings more than just parody to the work. In fact, he shows just  how effective the use of lines and dots can be.

Still, my favourite of his is his first pop art picture “Look Mickey” to prove to his son he could paint pictures as good as in the comics. Now that is real genius! The rest, as we know, is history!

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