The quintessential figurehead of the American Pop Art movement, Roy Lichtenstein, is celebrated with his first retrospective in Paris at the always fun and exciting Pompidou Centre.
It is appropriate that the first piece you see is Look Mickey (1961), as it marked the beginning of his creation of comic-inspired images. As if to leave no doubt that he had found his groove, Lichtenstein destroyed most of his pre-existing expressionist work. Not that this is so unusual – Monet drove his wife to distraction as he shredded thirty of his water garden paintings – a series that remains one of the most celebrated artworks of our time, while Richter took a box cutter and matches to sixty of his photo-based paintings. Their estimated worth would be around $600 million today.
When Lichtenstein depicts an enlarged version of a single frame of a comic, the artist picks one pivotal emotion that defines the character, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks of what happens before and after. But he doesn’t always paint emotive subjects such as romance or war, he also elevates the prosaic hot dog or a pile of dishes to the status of a protagonist.
“Pop Art looks out into the world,” said Lichtenstein. “It appears to accept its environment, which is not good or bad, but different, another state of mind.”
There is a conscious endeavour to make the final result look as if it had been created by a machine– to erase all traces of a human hand in the making. Lichtenstein created those precise Ben-Day dots first by frottage (rubbing the sheet over a hard surface with dots and thus transferring them) but later switched to a perforated screen which allowed him to use different sizes and different patterns. Some art critics looked down their noses at this approach. A series of paintings and sculptures with graphic representations of brushstrokes appeared to be a tongue-in-cheek riposte to the stuffy establishment. It almost seemed like Lichtenstein was saying “I could do traditional brushstrokes… but I choose not to.”
Tip: Pay particular attention to how the exhibition is arranged so that the paintings echo the subject of the sculptures. You can see it with the “brushstrokes”, side by side, and the same with the “girls.”
Centre Pompidou, 19 rue Beaubourg, 4th arrondissement Paris, +33 1 44 78 12 33. 13 euros admission. Until November 4, 2013.
Originally published in the October-November 2013 issue of France Today