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When I was in college I took a painting class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). I was fully enrolled in a different liberal arts school. Being a Great Books major I had grown used to questioning everything and searching for meaning. This was well demonstrated in my class at SAIC. Another girl who was a full-time student there presented her work and explained to me that the only reason for it was to be pretty and ironic. Her explanation caused a long discussion.

Often when we think of art aesthetics come into play immediately, following that is usually an exploration of the artist. Where did he come from? What influenced his work? What is the meaning of it? It’s as if we have a habit of playing psychologist to the artist and his only answer is what he put on the canvas before we asked the questions. The Art Institute’s Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is like a breath of fresh air from such exploration. It is more like the Art Institute student in my class. I don’t know if he chose his subjects to be ironic, as she did, but it doesn’t matter. This is a show where one can truly go, view the art, and relax.

Lichtenstein’s art is varied in subject matter and material providing something for everyone in this extensive exhibition.

The show is mostly in chronological order, more so it is in order of style. He started with some abstracts, using very few of the dots for which he is known, and moved on to household objects. The dots became more prevalent as he moved into the cartoon work that made him a household name. What I didn’t catch explained in the exhibition is how he created the dot pattern. It’s so perfect. However, I did spot a sculpture called Wall Explosion II which uses perforated metal, and my brain clicked.

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_Girl

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_Girl (Photo credit: OMINO71)

Two rooms in the exhibition surprised me the most. One room was filled with works that look like masterpieces by other artists, but they were all made by Lichtenstein. I learned he paid homage to artists that he admired by creating their masterpieces in his style. I think the wall text explained this well by comparing the pieces to Picassos and Mondrains that were made to look like Lichtensteins, rather than Lichtensteins that were made to look like works by other artists.

The second room that I would love to return to in the show was of his landscapes. This is possibly the smallest room, but it packed the biggest punch. He used a variety of layered materials and carefully placed his dots in moray patterns creating landscapes that move when you look at them. Sometimes they move when you move and sometimes it seems as if they just move on their own.

Lichtenstein was a careful artist who showed impressive skill in his craft. He sketched his art before creating it saying, “It’s all thought up in the drawings and all accomplished in the paintings.” He mastered the craft of using simple dots to create masterpieces that portray depth and volume as well as striking images.

If you are unfamiliar with the breadth of work created by Lichtenstein take an afternoon to stroll through the galleries and you’ll soon understand why and how this Pop artist permanently marked his place in the pages of art history.

For more information on the exhibition visit the Art Institute of Chicago website.
Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective runs from May 22-September 3.