Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein (4 stars)

New exhibition at Scottish Gallery of Modern Art traces the career of iconic pop artist

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Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein

In The Car, Roy Lichtenstein / © The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation 2014

When the National Galleries of Scotland paid £100,000 for Roy Lichtenstein’s painting ‘In The Car’ in 1980, some in Edinburgh society were less than impressed that such an immense sum be spent on a cartoonish piece of pop art. 35 years on, it’s one of the most popular works in the Modern collection.

Now visitors can see it in a new context, placed within three rooms of Lichtenstein’s work, most of it on long-term loan from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in New York as part of the Artist Rooms scheme.

‘In The Car’ is an early work, made in the 1960s when Lichtenstein was a pioneer of Pop Art, but his aesthetic remained relatively unchanged: imagery borrowed from cartoons and advertising, deft lines, bright colours, flat planes. His pursuit of that aesthetic, and his struggle with its limits, provides the focus on his art.

How, for example, do you create a reflection with only panels of flat colour? In his ‘Reflections’ series of prints in the 1980s, Lichtenstein breaks images up with panels of Ben-Day dots (a form of pixelation used in printing) to make narratives ambiguous and images semi-abstract.

Though he used mass-produced imagery for much of his career, he was also engaged seriously with the history of art. Prints on display here explore the female nude, an interest in cubism (in fact, a pastiche of styles from Dali to Mondrian) and – perhaps most strangely of all – his version of Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’.

These works retain an ambivalent relationship to the original, somewhere between homage and send-up. Above all, they are a reminder that Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ have become as ubiquitous as a cartoon or an advertising slogan. Indeed, this may be pop art’s greatest legacy to the world of contemporary art: at the end of the day, it’s all material.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until Sun 10 Jan 2016.

ARTIST ROOMS: Roy Lichtenstein

A three-room display of the work of Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997), the man who made Ben-Day dots into his signature style. This display brings together for the first time works by the wittiest of the pop artists.

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