Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein was most famous for his large canvasses in which he reproduced bits of popular advertisements and, in particular, panels from comic books, complete with renderings of oversize process color dots.
As much as I enjoyed seeing representations of comic panels displayed large, I always had a problem with Lichtenstein’s use of them. My most basic objection was the fact that he was treating them the way Warhol treated soup cans (and also comic panels), in that there was an assumption that the act of isolating and painting them as he had was elevating them to the status of “art”, with the tacit assumption, of course, that they were not art in the first place.
This is not an assumption I endorse, obviously. Comic art (or graphic narrative if you want a high-tone term) is as viable an art form as any form of visual art or literature, and is actually the unique and special point where those two otherwise separate forms of human expression join.
So, despite the fun gee-whiz campy color dot fizz of it all, Lichtenstein’s uncredited swipes (as they are called in comic circles) from comic book artists’ work did not please me.
Not only did the panels not need to be “elevated” to the status of art, Lichtenstein’s renderings of them (image above, right) were flat, lifeless and seemingly clueless to the appeal of the original panels (above, left). This is possibly deliberate on his part, but the effect is a drab one regardless, and I have never seen anything from Lichtenstein that demonstrates an ability to draw as well as even the least talented second string comic artists whose work he cavalierly “borrowed”.
This is evident when you compare his renditions with the original comic panels, a process that has been spotty and difficult in the past but is now facilitated by a project called Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein by David Barsalou.
Barsalou has painstakingly found assembled and documented the original comic panels (and other sources) on which Lichtenstein based his panels.
I should point out that Barsalou probably does not share my attitude toward Lichtenstein’s work, and in fact, probably has the opposite opinion. I don’t want to seem like I’m putting words in his mouth.
His project, however, is a treat for me, because it makes it easier to say: “compare the originals”.
Link suggestion courtesy of Jack Harris.
Background info from Barsalou
Intro from gallery show in 2000
Wikipedia article with links to Lichtenstein's work