Saturday, May 26, 2012

Roy Lichtenstein at the Art Institute of Chicago

Photo of Roy Lichtenstein's "Compositions"
via Museo Madre
I think I've gotten into the habit of featuring art on Saturdays, so today I'm sharing the one painting that I really liked from the current Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago. As a writer I guess it makes sense that I love that rendering of a composition notebook.

One thing to note about this inventor of Pop Art is that all his paintings are actually paintings, created with brush and paint (unlike Andy Warhol's which were mainly prints). It looked to me like in this one the off-white squiggles were painstakingly painted onto black canvas.

Another thing to note is that Lichtenstein was doing this kind of super-representational work in the early 1960s when the art world was still in Jackson Pollock mode, namely art was all about the artist expressing his inner world, rather than the artist capturing, reflecting or commenting on the society he found around himself, which is what Lichtenstein started doing.

His "Look Mickey" painting, a distilled rendering of a Golden Book Mickey Mouse/Donald Duck comic book page caused a sensation in 1961. Could what seemed to be an overly simplistic "copy" of a comic strip in primary colors be art? The jury might still be out on that but it was certainly new.

I had high expectations of the Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective, and I left disappointed. Not in his work, but in feeling that the exhibit didn't teach me much. I want to walk away from a retrospective, which, after all, should be comprehensive exhibit of an artist's body of work, with a strong sense of who this artists was, what his goals were and how he pursued them in his work. This retrospective certainly gathered many of Lichtenstein's works, and in that it is successful. But coming out of this exhibit, I had no clearer sense of who he was than when I entered, although I do have some appreciation now of what his work might mean, and how it fits in the continuum of Modern Art. Perhaps the wish to get to "know" an artist is a peculiar desire of mine, typical maybe for my interest in people's personal stories that comes from my own work.


  1. I don't think I would ever consider a composition notebook as a work of art, until now. Amazing detail.

  2. wow - this is amazing- before I started reading I was thinking, "Why is she posting a picture of her composition book" and then when I read what it was about- I was like "WOW- how in the world did he paint all those intricate parts of the picture"-- I went back to re examine it, now knowing it was an actual painting and not photograph!

  3. Your comment about being a writer and loving the composition book made me smile...who doesn't love a new composition book??

  4. How interesting. Makes me wonder what made him even try this kind of painting. Your post also brought back fond memories of my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade art classes going to the Art Institute on a field trip. We came on a chartered bus from Oak Park and loved having a whole day away from the regular school routine.It was the beginning of Art Appreciation for me.

  5. Betty Roan - see, there you go! A composition notebook can make up a painting, and a big one, too.

    Anjuli - I think that's one of the cool things about Lichtenstein's work: He makes you do a doubletake on what you're seeing.

    Barb Freda - I actually don't use these kinds of composition notebooks, but my kids used them for school, and I do have another kind of notebook I like.

    Nancy - glad to bring back memories for you!