Roy Lichtenstein has one of the most readily identifiable art styles of the last fifty years and many of us will have grown up seeing at least a few of his works reprinted as postcards, prints, or calendars. For myself, his work has always been of interest as I have read and collected American comics most of my life, and this visual imagery is the source material for some of the artist’s best known works.
Before going into the exhibition at Modern 1, which is spread over three “Artists Rooms” as part of the larger “Reflections” exhibition, I watched a short nine minute introductory film featuring Roy Lichtenstein, his widow, friends, early work and the artist at work. This was an interesting introduction to the works on view as it was clearly explained that although the line, layout and form of comics interested him, that Roy Lichtenstein was not a comic fan. In fact, other than art, it was Jazz music that was his other life-long passion.
Much of the work on display here is from the later years of Roy’s work in the 1990s (he sadly passed away in 1997), and these works clearly show an artist still at the height of creativity experimenting with new techniques in print-making while also at the same time returning to some of the visual images of his earlier “pop art” works. These later works are a newly assembled collection made possible for the first time with the help of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
The bulk of what is on show is from the 1990 to 1996 later period of Roy Lichtenstein’s life and includes prints from his 1990 “Reflections” series and the technically very difficult to print “Waterlilies” series from 1992. The Waterlilies print series involved finding a way to print a swirl motif onto stainless steel as part of the overall illustration. This series was a major technical achievement for renowned print maker Donald Staff and his production team.
From the 1992 to 1994 period we also have a series of prints in which Roy Lichtenstein incorporates the nude female form into his work for the first time.
For most people visiting this exhibition though the most well known work on display is probably “In The Car” from 1963. Roy Lichtenstein was never secretive about his source material for some of his work, and the original source material for this work is a 1961 comic book “Girl’s Romances 78”. This work is not a direct copy of the comic’s book panel as the thought captions at the top are not here and there are obvious differences in where the lines are, the woman’s coat, and of course the methods used to create the work. This is actually the second “In The Car” painting. A smaller version was painted earlier and kept by Roy Lichtenstein for his own private collection.
“In the Car” is actually owned by the National Galleries and it was purchased by them in 1980 for the then considerable sum of £100,000. Given that the average house price in Scotland at this time was only around £20,000, this large sum of money being spent on one work of art (particularly a modern work of art) attracted much criticism, and this can be seen from a display of contemporary paperwork – including the original receipt for the work dated 14.11.80 from “The Mayor Gallery” in Cork Street London. I think though that this has proven to be a very wise financial investment for the gallery.
You really have to stop and look at the display cases in this exhibition as some of the small items can so easily be overlooked by the display of larger works. One of the most important pieces here is a copy of a book called “1c Life” from 1964. This was a book by Chinese artist poet Walter Ting that was edited by Sam Francis and featured a set of 62 Litho prints. Roy Lichtenstein was invited to contribute to the work and his inclusion here along with other artists such as Andy Warhol seems to have been pivotal in placing him on his new “art style” path.
This exhibition of course is only a small part of a much larger artistic output and represents only one face of the many styles and forms that Roy Lichtenstein explored in a long and innovative career, but it is well worth taking time out to view.
This exhibition has free admittance.