Review: Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein in Focus

Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein in Focus
Tate Liverpool,
until 10th June 2018

Words, Patrick Kirk-Smith

Tate’s Artist Rooms give everyone the chance to see great art, or famous art at least. Occasionally that sparks controversy, or the juxtaposition between great and famous brings out the reviewer in us, or sometimes, it promises an artist we think we know and delivers someone entirely different. This is Roy Lichtenstein, In Focus.

Part of the travelling series, it has already shaped ideas in Edinburgh, so it may not get the national audience excited, but that’s not what Artist Rooms are about; they’re here to give Liverpool a chance to see things ordinarily confined to London.

Roy Lichtenstein is an artist everybody understands, knows inside out, recognises instantly. I thought. But after the initial impact of Wall Explosion and In The Car, and the comfortable familiarity, this insight into an icon is incredibly revealing.

I didn’t know he made film, I had no idea he worked with so many materials, I didn’t understand where the dots came from and I really didn’t expect to find art historical pastiches around every corner.

To me, Lichtenstein has always been the comic artist who celebrated and teased graphic illustrators for decades and not much more. I’m rarely excited by seeing another big dot painting. But this isn’t that at all, what Artist Rooms give us is a new perspective, one I’m glad to have.

I now know that Lichtenstein’s limited pallet stems from fascinating dark room teaching, where he learned to remember scenes from the briefest of moments, and his comic book style was more than a satire but a love that extended to a lifetime of exploration.

But most importantly I now know that he was a far more experimental artist than I ever anticipated, and the joy with which Tate Liverpool exhibits those explorations into the unknown runs off; I left this exhibition better off.

Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein in Focus runs until 10th June 2018 at Tate Liverpool