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War & Peace & Women: Roy Lichtenstein

Andy Warhol
is known to be the King of pop art. But fame and limelight are quite tricky
subjects to rely on, and, obviously, there are much more names in pop art that have been unfairly left behind by the mass culture. Roy Lichtenstein is one of those
artists you can fall in love with, once you have seen his works. Unique comic style,
social

criticism, feminism, irony and parody – all these qualities are neatly
embodied in his recognizable oeuvre.

This American
pop artist was obviously inspired by comic books that played a significant role
in American culture serving as a type of mythology echoing the European
tradition of hoary legends and myths. Lichtenstein
was also influenced by the growing at the time industry of advertising, just as
the pop art movement in general. One of his main instruments was parody,
combined with social criticism and political messages. His works often seem absurd, but strange psychological unity of the text and image creates new levels of
understanding. Let’s see for ourselves on some particular examples.

image

Drowning
girl

This work
is one of the most famous pieces dedicated to Lichtenstein’s depiction of
women. It is tightly based on the comic book cover with remastered text and
accurate cropping. 

image

This fact made it
highly debatable at the time, even though Lichtenstein painted all of his works
himself aiming at the industrial, machine-printed look. The questions of authorship
and originality, as we know, are quite typical for pop art. We can also see the
waves referring to Hokusai’s famous print.

image

 In fact, Lichtenstein quite often
made references to other artists such as Picasso and Monet, making the “quote”
into his own expression. Drowning girl
is a parody of melodramatic relationships in the area of television soap operas
and reference to the depiction of women in the mass media. It is uniqueness also
lies in the time management and presence. We see a moment that has been cut off
in the way so that we cannot tell for sure what happened, what will happen and
who is Brad. It is also an exaggeration of emotions; we can easily admit that
the girl has cried an ocean of tears, which makes the work into a subtle poetic
piece of the mass media era. Just as Warhol studied the perception of imagery
in the times of the new media’s emerging, Lichtenstein did the same but with
the cartoonish twist.

image

As I Opened Fire  

Not all of
his works are focused on women. He had created a series of painting dedicated
to wartime and military themes. Lichtenstein himself served in an army, and his
works on this topic are particularly interesting in terms of impersonal
position and political satire.  

“A
minor purpose of my war paintings is to put military aggressiveness in an
absurd light. My personal opinion is that much of our foreign policy has been
unbelievably terrifying, but this is not what my work is about and I don’t want
to capitalize on this popular position. My work is more about our American
definition of images and visual communication.”

image

Another war
themed works is diptych painting Whaam!. The
interaction between actions on the right side of the panel with the “result” in
the left one that includes onomatopoeia and an explosion creates a certain
narrative between visual aspect, text, and the triviality of a comic book. Viewers
see a real combat, framed in the neat and familiar style which weirdly changes
the perception of the topics. Here we have a searching scrutiny of the
representation of events and the perception of them. We can continue the list
of involving topics to our changing outlook on life due to the invention of
virtual reality, videogames, etc. Let’s just remember that Lichtenstein’s works
were made in the 60s, they were relevant back then and continue to be relevant
nowadays. That is a true timeless talent in the simple form!

Despite the
huge success of Roy Lichtenstein, there was a time, when his works were hardly considered
as high art. In 1964 Life magazine wondered whether he was the worst artist in
the U.S. Ironically, his first solo show was sold out before the opening and
now he is thought of as one of the biggest visual influences of the 20th
century with his signature women figures and comic/ad style. There is a huge
talent in creating something simple, yet with a broad meaning; something that catches
viewer’s attention, but is flexible enough to migrate into the mass culture and to stay there.

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