Yesterday i had a meeting in town, and on my way I noticed a sign for a Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the Tate Modern. I decided to have a pleasant sunny London town walk along the river and have an impromptu art gallery exhibition. Looking at paintings is one of my favourite things in the world. I love dragging my husband around the galleries of the world when we're on holiday to appreciate art I probably won't be able to see anywhere else. I can't stand tourists who just go an take a photo of the famous painting. If you can't enjoy looking at it in and experience the emotions you have looking at it person, why on earth do you think anyone, especially you, is going to want to see a photo of it?? But one thing I have noticed: there's usually a pretty good reason why the famous artists and paintings are the famous ones. Not always, I adore falling in love with a painting by someone I've never heard of in a corner of an art gallery, but look at Botticelli's Birth of Venus surrounded by thousands of other paintings of the same period and you understand why it's the one you've seen in art books.
Lichtenstein is one of those artists that everybody recognises his work, most teenagers with art aspirations go through a phase of thinking he's uber cool, but I didn't really know all that much about apart from the 'he does big paintings of comic books' thing. The thing about Lichtenstein is that because his point is about playing with texture and scale, enlarging small 'low art' pictures and turning them into 'high art', you are never really going to understand his work by looking at it in an art text book. Yes that is true of all artists to a point, but you can still appreciate the composition and technique of a Rembrandt or Vermeer in a picture. Even more modern artists like Mondrian and Picasso's ideas come across in 5" square prints. But they just don't for Lichtenstein, because what you are looking at is more or less the small commercial drawing that he was inspired by.
It's only when you see his precision work with dots in a 1.5m square canvas that his work comes alive.
But more importantly the exhibition is excellently curated. To those who believe art should be about final picture rather than ideas and motivation, it's very easy to be dismissive of what Lichtenstein did. But the way the exhibition is laid out: his different styles and themes, his understanding and homages of other artists such as Picasso and Monet. The most hardened cynic could not but learn to appreciate the true artist behind the images from the information and layout of this show. It's on until May 27th and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you have any enjoyment of art.
Without sounding too much like an art wank, when walking into the gift shop at the end of the exhibition I had that feeling you get where you enjoyed yourself so much that you want to buy a memento of what you saw. But it's like I said above, his work is pretty much about small scale commercial art made into large scale high art paintings, so shrinking them down to be printed onto mass produced mugs and t-shirts kind of defeats the point. Although I think he of all people would appreciate the irony.