The Comic Genius: Review of ‘Lichtenstein a Retrospective’ at the Tate Modern

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I have long been a fan of pop art – ever since my own Art teacher at school introduced us to the idea that it was actually ok to use bold primary colours, graphic lines and even text to create a credible piece of work.

This idea has stayed with me over the years and my final degree works at university back in 2005 –  in the form of a woven and surface embellished textile fabrics- were heavily influenced by the work of the ‘Godfather of pop’ himself: Roy Lichtenstein.

working drawings for woven fabricsI LOVE the way that Lichtenstein shows us his initial pencil lines within his earlier work, it’s what gives his pieces a more personal and hand produced feeling. This something that I used myself within my own work. The ‘working lines’ were kept as a part of the design motifs so that they would ultimately become a key feature of the final repeat woven fabrics. The image on the left shows one example of this in practice, even though essentially this merely a tool to produce the final outcome, in many ways, I find the preparatory drawings more interesting than the final fabrics because they look so raw and hand drawn…

Drawing for 'Whaam!' 1963So, considering my obsession with all things ‘comic’ and ‘pop art’ a visit to the Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern was a real treat.

I feel as though I know this work so well, the familiar use of style that has influenced so many designers and contemporary artists. However, my only experience of Lichtenstein has been through secondary sources and as any good artist will tell you, there’s nothing quite the same as viewing objects and artworks in the ‘flesh’…and this was no exception.

lichtenstein spotsBeing able to examine in detail the way that the patterns have been created within Lichtenstein’s work was a real privilege,  particularly the monochrome works – for me one of the most interesting aspects of the whole collection is his use of scale and space between the regular graphic spots to create different grades of tone and depth within the compositions. It is even more amazing to think that each of these spots is hand painted – albeit with the support of a stencil and masking tape – but still, painted with a paintbrush rather than screen printed as many of the Lichtenstein reproductions are produced.

On a personal note, the exhibition felt like an opportunity to get to know the artist on a different level, see his fabulous well know pieces but also to dissect the way that the works are produced and really ‘see’ the brushstrokes in his work was something that has just (which despite what the vast majority of my students think – you can’t capture that via Google images!) After years of being inspired in one form or another by the different design aspects within his work, it was lovely to see the journey of development through Lichtenstein’s own vast collection of work. As a teacher, this trip has sparked lots of ideas for ‘pop’ projects, the possibilities for recreating Lichtenstein’s patterns and style with textile media and techniques are endless!

Thank you to the Tate Modern for a truly inspirational and fulfilling afternoon of artwork from the comic genius that is Mr Roy Lichtenstein. If any of you get the opportunity to visit it is TOTALLY worth it.. make sure that you book tickets in advance though so that you can avoid being disappointed during the busy period over the school holidays.

…oh, and the rather FABULOUS pop art bits in the Tate Modern shop are also available on-line as well as lots of other Lichtenstein information is you can’t manage a visit.

Mrs Arty-Textiles

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