Weekly Review of Art - LICHTENSTEIN

This Tuesday's Weekly Review of Dance Music has been adapted for a brand new market in a bid to break new local and global territories. The review you are about to read is for an audience who couldn't give a shit about Ricky V, Sónar and MASSIVE tunes on a dance floor. I'm, of course, talking about those who like to look at art and then BANG on about it with people they pretend to be friends with at university.

I went to Tate Modern last week and sneaked into the new Lichtenstein exhibition behind Alastair Sooke.

Tate Modern's big show about Roy Lichtenstein opens with a massive splash of paint landing on a canvas. There it meets some yellow paint. That yellow THEN glides across the surface like a slow-moving tear beneath some tiny blue stars caused by that accidental spatter. It's a picture of a picture being made, or perhaps fucked, each mark frozen and magnified in Lichtenstein's trademark style. But it is also a picture – a landscape – of good vibes. 

This Tate retrospective is exactly like taking ecstasy; it's all about uplift and pleasure. Many painters hope to wink at the viewer and lick their lips, but you always sense that they want to end up fingering you. Lichtenstein's paintings are lickable lollies of paint and art. Even when the subject is boring – a textbook, a ball of wool, a car tyre – there is joy in the way he painted them. They have charm almost as part of their content. Like Nicola Adams' face.

Everyone knows what a Lichtenstein picture looks like: black outlines, the uninflected printer's-ink palette, the Ben-Day dots and super-precise images, so condensed and diagrammatic, with their unwavering sense of elegant design. Mid-air BANGS, girls crying in a river, the aeroplane pilot locked on his target – all preserved in Lichtenstein's dotty style. Which, bent on deducing the basic grammar of other people's work, and reprising it in one of his own, has long since become as familiar as the commercial art from which it derived. 

You must have seen them – that big-headed fucker, Brad. That bird up to her eyes in sea water who'd rather drown than call him for help – but how do these paintings feel to us these days, 50 years after Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger invented pop art in Studio 45? Their vitality is evergreen, always exuberant, even in the long phases of cool art about art, but the mood runs all the way from :-( to LOL.

Three of Matisse's goldfish look glum to find themselves in Lichtenstein's bowl. A woman's hand holding a sponge wipes a bright passage through some dots. He even deceives your eyes by painting a transistor which becomes a portable radio when hung on the wall!

Roy Lichtenstein calculates exactly how many black triangles are required to make the twinkle on a woman's engagement ring. He represents the dimples on a golf ball as a calendar of dark moons, waxing and waning in INFINITESIMAL degrees to describe the ball's curve. The see-through bit of a magnifying glass is brilliantly evoked in just the right permutations of dots.

At the end of the day, he just wants to know how to make 2D look like 3D.

The sight and sound of an Alka-Seltzer swooping down through a glass of water is perfectly expressed in the trail of blank bubbles fizzing behind the disc and the spume of white dots scintillating among the black ones upon the surface.

James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff at Tate Modern have worked very hard and have even sorted his work into date order – the 60s cartoons; the black-and-white paintings; the mirror pictures; the rip-offs he did on other painters which looked fucking bizarre: Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian, and sometimes all three, all get the Lichtenstein dots plastered all over them. It's all in there.

What it BANGS home is how good Lichtenstein was at painting: the stroke, mark and dot of the brush. How to render polished surfaces using liquid swipes, and Bakelite hardness with stipples; how to create light and air with screens of dots that blatantly couldn't give a shit if they look fake.

This is an art of special effects. How to draw a mirror, a thing only fully visible when something is reflected in it, with nothing but variations of dots and dashes. There are five mirrors in this show, each looking deeper than the next, one being his own self-portrait: a mirror above a T-shirt where his head should have been. He was that mysterious that it's still unknown, to this day, what Roy Lichtenstein looked like.

But he didn't just reflect the world. The delight in a pedal bin that opens and shuts with the touch of a toe becomes the rainbow he can't stop adding to his copy of a late Cézanne. For the lads, he did girls crying after being dumped and, later on, nudes. He was fucking brilliant.

Here the Ben-Day dots are beginning to float free like patterns on an Etch-A-Sketch, and these fit birds he was drawing don't seem to be interested in sticking around. In one picture, a rip-off of a Picasso, two naked women are running down a beach but one looks massively pissed off to be left behind while the other is nearly out of the picture! I was, quite literally, laughing my head inside out when I looked at that one! Can you imagine?!

To be honest, the mood in the last room is fucking sad, to be honest. Roy Lichtenstein died in 1997, at the age of 73, one day before James Dean died 42 years previously. Nobody knows if these paintings of China were made as last works. But the famous RL dots are given a new lease of life here, finely graded from misty grey to glowing white to evoke the sea, sky and snow of China. A tiny Lichtenstein boat edges into one of these visions looking like Iggle Piggle after he's gone to bed.

I'm giving this one 9/10

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective
21 February - 27 May 2013

Tate Modern 

Get down there NOW. It's £14 entrance but well worth it.

Who's with me?

I'll be back next week more up to the minute dance reviews.

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