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Silvie Koang LICHTENSTEIN AT TATE MODERN: WHAT A POP! Wednesday, March 13, 2013 Note from Bethan: During fashion months, there's no way that we would get through without a brilliantly up-for-anything, stupendou... 5


Note from Bethan: During fashion months, there's no way that we would get through without a brilliantly up-for-anything, stupendously helpful intern. Our AW13 version of that godsend is Hannah Mason. When I heard that she was going to Lichtenstein at Tate Modern before me, I asked very nicely if she might like to write about it for our blog. If you've been dithering about whether to go, let Hannah help you decide....

Posted by Hannah Mason

I stood in the middle of the Millennium Bridge last night taking a snapshot of the magical City of London lit up on a very chilly March evening. I was in this exact spot a few weeks ago during LFW, feeling slightly dreamlike on my way to see my first ever fashion show. I have been busy interning for Melanie and Bethan and managed to scoop a last minute invitation to see a fashion show for myself, rather than through the likes of Twitter and It was JW Anderson that had the honour of taking my fashion show virginity.

In the slightly spooky vaulted Tanks under the Tate Modern, the Topshop Showspace for this LFW, JW Anderson presented a collection that was clinical, with quick bursts of colour but of course still in keeping with the cult, androgynous style which is making his show an unmissable spot on the schedule. Amid acres of white, black, grey and red were two looks printed with graphic comic strips. It was this comic book inspiration that bought me back to this same spot in the middle of the Millennium Bridge last night, off to review the Tate's newly opened Lichtenstein retrospective. Previous to my visit my impression of Lichtenstein was as a one hit, cartoon wonder, but the depth of this exhibition, the first comprehensive account of his work in over 20 years, proved me wrong.

Upon strolling into ‘Brushstrokes’, the first of thirteen themed rooms, I am instantly taken by brash American, pop art laden paint brush strokes brandished on enormous canvases. Lichtenstein paints them in such a controlled manner for what is typically an emotional and erratic move from a frustrated artist, that they have quite a calming effect. Moving through to the ‘Early Pop’ room I viewed some of the comic book pieces from the early 1960s that have been so extensively re-imagined in advertising to this day. Brands such as Perrier and Nivea have incorporated their aggressive commercial language into speech bubbles obviously derived from the Lichtenstein school of art. These pieces were originally inspired by melodramatic stories and clichéd gender roles, themes which ran deep in mass American society at the time. So I was very much expecting the whole exhibition to continue in a similarly familiar vein; American pop and comic.

Perrier ad, inspired by Lichtenstein (via
What I hadn’t realised was Lichtenstein himself described his work as "not 'American' painting but actually industrial painting". It was in the next room, ‘Black and White’, which explained this notion, which is a bit tricky to get your head around at first. There I discovered a complete contrast to his earlier pop days. The commerciality of mass media inspired Lichtenstein’s restricted black-and-white palette; he rendered newspaper illustrations of everyday into a near unrecognisable graphic form; focussing on mass produced functional objects (Golf Ball, 1963). It was Alka Seltzer, 1966 that I enjoyed the most. So graphic and pared back yet still exuding a sense of movement and even sound as small, perfectly formed bubbles float through water and ‘fizz’ when they reach the top.

Roy Lichtenstein, Alka Seltzer, 1966 (image via
Not only were his inspirations of an industrial nature but his techniques too. Lichtenstein developed his Benday dots technique from handmade stencils to large, prefabricated screens and in doing so he found his style, creating an instant trademark that runs uniformly across almost every piece from the 60s onwards. In the ‘Landscapes’ room he takes this industrialisation of pop art into sculptural form, painting onto sheets of Plexiglass and Rowlux. In Seascape and Pink Seascape (both 1965) these pieces of plastic represent sky and water, moving when viewed from different angles, creating hypnotic optical illusions.

The Tate have organised this exhibition brilliantly; I loved discovering whole new swathes of work that I may not have instantly associated with his style, but also felt like I had a good taste of the kind of image which instantly pops into your mind's eye when you hear "Lichtenstein". Bright colour and angular shapes clearly dominate the exhibition, but moving into the last room I am presented with a light and peaceful atmosphere. Lichtenstein’s ‘Chinese Landscapes’ were painted in the final years of his life and are dramatically different to the rest of his work. The illustrational graphics of his pop paintings have receded but you can still spot those trademark Benday dots, cleverly creating subtle graduations of misty mountains.

A bit like JW Anderson, there's much more to Roy Lichtenstein than comic book graphics. What's more, this is a show we can all go to, no need to wait for the invitation.

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is on at Tate Modern until 27th May. Find out more here.
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