Roy Lichtenstein – A Documentary

Posted filed underDocumentaries, Pop Art, USA, Videos.

This documentary by Chris Hunt from 1991 is a very interesting and informative survey of Lichtenstein’s work, structured around interviews of various art critics along with continuous commentary by Lichtenstein himself. Lichtenstein analyzes several of his most famous pieces and explains his artistic processes and development in detail. There is also fascinating footage of Lichtenstein working in his studio.

In 1963 Roy Lichtenstein defended Pop art against its critics, contending that “there are certain things that are usable, forceful, and vital about commercial art.” By choosing comic-book illustrations as a theme, and using simulated Benday dots to suggest cheap printing, Lichtenstein acknowledged (and perhaps questioned) the role of this popular form of entertainment in daily life. There is also an element of humor in creating fine art out of what has customarily been considered “low,” a playfulness that is equally evident in the onomatopoeic caption and bellicose expression of the dog in Grrrrrrrrrrr!! (1965)

Lichtenstein cultivated imagery from the history of art while continuing to use the conventions of comics and advertisements. In Preparedness (1968) he used the Benday-dot technique to make a wall-size painting (10 feet high by 18 feet wide) that suggests the work of Fernand Léger and the WPA artists of the 1930s, who painted monumental murals, readable at a distance, on themes of workers and everyday life. Lichtenstein followed this practice to an ironic and somewhat subversive end. Painted during a year when public opinion on the Vietnam War shifted dramatically, Lichtenstein’s massive depiction of machinery and soldiers probes the conventions of selling the promises of the military-industrial complex, while quietly alluding to the naive optimism underlying a call to arms.

Lichtenstein often focused on the way his traditional and mass-media sources resolve the dilemmas of representing three dimensions on a flat picture plane, incorporating their solutions into his own work with witty exaggeration. Preparedness plays the fragmented Cubist collage space of Léger against comic-strip modes of suggesting form and the surface quality of objects. Lichtenstein’s inclusion of an airplane window in the third panel of the painting foreshadows his engagement with modes of conveying the illusion of reflective glass, which he went on to explore in a series of paintings of mirrors. Interior with Mirrored Wall (1991) is a later development of this exploration. In a series of works depicting banal domestic environments inspired by furniture ads he found in telephone books, Lichtenstein continued his previous investigations of illusionistic representational devices, here by including the eponymous mirrored wall and the gleaming, polished grand piano. His references to high-art sources included his own work, which is shown framed on the wall. The floor covering also implicitly acknowledges Henri Matisse’s use of decorative patterns.

- Text by Jennifer Blessing