The names Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are synonymous with the influential and international pop art revolution that swept the world in the 1960s. Works by these artists are now iconic references to a time when young artists began to revolt against the prevailing art styles of art being taught at art schools and shown in art galleries around the world.
As part of the Cairns Art Gallery’s International Partnership Program, Andy Warhol / Roy Lichtenstein will open in the first half of 2023. The exhibition includes major prints on loan from the National Gallery of Australia, including works from Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup II 1969 series, a self-portrait from his Artists and Photographs 1970 series, and Electric chairs 1971 series, and Lichtenstein’s celebrated works including Nude with blue hair 1993, and …Huh? 1976.
British curator Lawrence Alloway first used the term ‘pop art’ in 1955 to describe a new form of popular art – a movement based on imagery drawn from popular culture, such as Hollywood movies, advertising, product packaging, television, pop music and comic books.
In the mid-1960s, artists in London and a little later in New York, embraced bold, simple, everyday imagery, and vibrant block colours in their work to create slick images using mechanical methods of production so that the medium of the artwork became as important as its ‘message’. In so doing they sought to destroy the divide between high and low, or commercial and fine, art.
In 1962, Andy Warhol began to transition from hand-painted to photo-transferred art. Searching for subjects, a friend suggested to him that he paint something everybody would recognise, ‘like Campbell’s soup’ which resulted in a series of thirty-two canvases, each looking the same but never identical. But it was not until 1968 and 1969 that Warhol broke with all conventions and, using silkscreen printing, a mechanical production, he created series of prints that not only looked the same but were the same, and which effectively removed the presence of the artist’s hand from the creation of the artwork. This raised heated debate around notions of authenticity and ‘real art’. For Warhol, the process of screen-printing allowed him to ‘become a machine’ making art, a concept that a concept that appealed to him greatly and was at the heart of the Pop Art movement.
Along with Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup II- Cheddar Cheese silkscreen print, other works by Warhol in the exhibition include a self-portrait from his famous series of Artists and Photographs, in which the intensity of the artist’s gaze becomes the gaze of an observer rather than a sitter, and effectively defining him as a celebrity in his own time.
A more sinister work in the exhibition is a multiple-state print, Electric chairs from his Death and Disaster series. The work comprises four different print states of an electric chair based on a press service photograph in 1953 of the electric chair used in Sing Sing prison, New York, to execute two New York citizens, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for passing confidential information about the atomic bomb to Russia during World War II. The work is extraordinary as it invokes emotions of horror and fascination, yet Warhol’s treatment of the image, turning it into repetitive images, serves to desensitise the viewers response to this otherwise powerful symbol of death and transience of life.
For Roy Lichtenstein, a contemporary of Andy Warhol, Pop Art authorised the use of imitation and appropriation in art. Referencing commercial and popular culture icons, such as Mickey mouse, and using Ben-Day dots and mechanical processes of printmaking, Lichtenstein’s work uses cliché and irony to challenge notions of high art in a contemporary world of popular culture. The term Ben Day dots refers to an inexpensive mechanical printing method developed in the late 19th century and named after its inventor, illustrator and printer, Benjamin Henry Day. Using a process of small primary-coloured dots to build up an image, Ben Day dot printing was primarily used in comic books and cartoon strips. They have subsequently become a signature of Lichtenstein’s work where he has used them on a much larger scale to create appropriated images of instantly recognisable images from 1960s comic books and other forms of contemporary culture. Lichtenstein was accused of copying his sources, but his reply to this accusation was simply, ’My work is actually different from the comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.’
Like cartoonists, Lichtenstein sought to minimise images of complex stories, emotions, and conversations, and collapse them into a single, often collaged image, to engage the viewer instantly and on many levels.
Nude with blue hair 1993 is one of the artist’s most important graphic works on paper and is a key work within the exhibition. The work demonstrates Lichtenstein’s extraordinary ability to experiment with innovative printing methods, enhancing the volume of his cartoon-like female figure and her hair through the application of shading, known as chiaroscuro, that uses contrasts of light and dark tones to achieve a heightened illusion of volume or depth.
Another device employed by the artist was collapsing and/or collaging multiple images to create one single image to fit the layout of a single-panel comic. His 1976 screenprint, …Huh? three scenes are merged into one. Using commercial devices such as a scaled-down use of colour and flat, smooth outlines, the print depicts a closely cropped table setting with a cup of coffee at its centre. Two conjoined textual elements hover above the scene, announcing ‘…Huh? I say no.’ and ‘Make sure!’. In so doing the artist conflates two separate conversations into one con-joined text that encourages the viewer to explore possibilities for interpretation of captured random moments of conversation.
Drawn from the National Gallery of Australia’s extensive collection, this exhibition of major prints by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein is an extraordinary opportunity for Cairns audiences to experience first-hand two of the world’s most famous pop artists of all time.
The presentation of these works of art from Australia’s national collection has been made possible by the generous support of Haymans Electrical and Data Suppliers through the National Gallery of Australia’s Regional Initiatives Program.
Andy Warhol, artist
United States of America 1928-1987
Multiples, Inc. (publisher)
Portraits from Artists and Photographs (Self portrait) 1970
offset lithography, synthetic polymer paint
National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra
© Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. ARS/Copyright Agency, 2022
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