The art of poise
In the 1960s pop music had the Beatles and the Stones, while pop art had Warhol and Lichtenstein. If you want to bracket the biggest hitters of their respective disciplines together in one neat analogy then this is a pretty good assertion. It doesn’t quite hang together, however. For while the Beatles represented the Apollonian side of the decade, the Stones were strictly Dionysian; looser and more debauched than their mop-topped contemporaries. Warhol and Lichtenstein, I think that it’s pretty safe to say, were both Apollonian; that is ordered, balanced and disciplined. Less yin and yang, than yin and yin. But, rather like the Beatles, that didn’t mean they weren’t at the forefront at innovation in art and asking the biggest questions.
Lichtenstein’s work was informed by the flotsam and jetsam of ephemeral art – including comic books and newsprint – but through his arresting and emotionally charged imagery he managed to comment on subjects such as love, sex and war. He gently mocked the abstract expressionists through his studied technique (Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and their ilk were reaching deep inside their Dionysian souls for their splattery output). This involved the painstaking process of reproducing ‘Ben-Day’ dots by hand, a system originally devised to increase the tonal range in commercial printing. And it wasn’t just abstract expressionism that would fall under his cool gaze. The exhibition at the Hatton shows how he drew on art history, while also responding to cultural and political changes from the 1960s onwards. Works such as ‘Reflections on Minerva’ (1990) feature painted reflections as a compositional device while suggesting ironic distance or abstraction between the subject and it’s ‘mirroring’ in a pop painting. He also experimented with man-made materials by creating high-gloss surfaces, an approach exemplified in relief words such as ‘Wall Explosion II’ (1965).
In all, the show features 16 screen prints and a ceramic sculpture, culled from ARTIST ROOMS, a touring collection of over 1,600 works of modern and contemporary art by 42 major artists jointly owned by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. You’d be dotty to miss it.
ARTIST ROOMS: Roy Lichtenstein, 28 September-4 January, Hatton Gallery, Kings Road, Newcastle University. hattongallery.org.uk