Roy Lichtenstein’s Tate Retrospective

By Martin Gayford - 2013-02-20T10:39:00Z

Estate of Roy Lichtenstein/DACS 2012 via Bloomberg

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Like many revolutionaries, the late Roy Lichtenstein was at heart a bit of a conservative.

Superficially, his introduction of the graphic formulae of comic books into serious art looks subversive. Actually, as a spectacular new exhibition at London’s Tate Modern makes clear, everything he did was from the most highbrow of motives.

Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was -- as he kept insisting -- not so much a fan of popular culture as that austere thing, a formalist. He was also, if not exactly a late beginner, definitely a late succeeder. It was not until 1961, when he was pushing 40, that he had his breakthrough moment.

Before that, he had been living in the sticks, doggedly producing second-string abstract paintings (and listening, by the way, to Bach and Bebop, not rock’n’roll). Few of those early abstractions are in the exhibition.

Left, "Whaam!" (1963) by Roy Lichtenstein is already familiar to visitors at the Tate.