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Roy Lichtenstein: dots in the ideals of post-war America

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The retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art at London’s Tate Modern is accessible, refreshingly diverse and hugely enjoyable, says Siobhan Brown
Issue 2342

The work of Roy Lichtenstein represents, for many people, the epitome of American Pop Art.

In this vast show works from collections all over the world are brought together.

It is an impressive yet accessible look at one of the most prominent artists involved in this movement.

Lichtenstein was born in 1920s New York and worked in the city for most of his life.

His instantly recognisable style —his pops of colour, his trademark use of colour and the inspiration he drew from popular culture—is predictably prevalent.

He developed his technique by copying panels from popular comic books at a much larger scale. The dots that became his trademark replace the large “Benday” ink dots from cheap printing.

The largest room is dedicated to war and romance, the two themes that made Lichtenstein famous.

It presents many of his best known works. Whaam! (1963), one of Tate Modern’s most loved pieces, is alongside other favourites, including Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too… But… (1964) and Masterpiece (1962).

Lichtenstein used the idea of the “pregnant moment”—that you can tell a story from a single second—in these paintings.

Lichtenstein’s earlier works— including his appropriation of the increasingly dominant Disney characters in Look Mickey (1961)—are accompanied by studies showing his process.

He cut out comics and adverts as inspiration.

He took an industrial approach, for example drilling holes in aluminium to make his iconic dot patterns.

His work presents the ideals of post-war America and his techniques are also shaped by it.


The exhibition is especially interesting in its representation of women in an America where mass production and pop culture were taking hold.

In a room of his earlier works, female subjects are presented as extensions of household objects— most notably in Sponge (1962).

Lichtenstein’s work also reflects the cliched gender roles in the mass media and films.

The room dedicated to his lesser known nudes is very interesting.

Lichtenstein took a traditional art form and subverted it with the use of popular images.

Some of the most striking works are not those thought of as typically Lichtenstein.

His monochrome prints, although still bearing much of his style, are simpler and more elegant works.

The Ring (1962) has some of his hallmarks but brings an everyday object to life without his use of colour.

This exhibition is full of other surprises. Although he is renowned for his painting, Lichtenstein was also an accomplished sculptor.

Influenced by the Art Deco movement, he played with glass and brass to create simply beautiful sculptures, a world away from his best known pieces.

Later in his life in the 1990s Lichtenstein drew on traditional Chinese landscapes as inspiration for work.

These show a wonderful use of colour and the iconic dots remain.

These also present the artist’s lesser known influences and passions.

Landscape in the Fog is a remarkable example of the great work he produced during this late phase.

This is a refreshing and hugely enjoyable show that surveys the extraordinary and surprisingly diverse career of this wonderful artist.

Lichtenstein: a retrospective

Until 27 May,£14, concessions available,

Tate Modern, Bankside, London SE1 9TG

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