War & Peace & Women: Roy Lichtenstein

By Liza G.

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.

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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. 

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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.

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 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.

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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.”

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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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