Menzies Art Brands



The master of artifice, the philosopher of the static image, Roy Lichtenstein encourages us to look again at our selected means of representation. To some admirers he will be forever cool, detached, ironic, heroically untempted by meaning1; the stylised, deadpan paragon of Pop who expended his energies equally on both Matisse and Mickey Mouse, blurring the lines between fine art, commercial art and design. But for an artist who made a career from surfaces, we always end up discovering greater depths in his art.

Lawrence Alloway, the English art critic generally credited with coining the Pop label, identified the threads that tied together Lichtensteins objects of art: the ball of twine, the ice cream soda, the golf ball, as well as the assortment household items that appear in his work. At the core of Lichtensteins paintings of objects, he wrote, is a drive to simplify representational art so that it has something of the visual impact of contemporary abstract painting.2

In a revealing exchange, featured in the same publication, Lichtenstein reflects on what it means to be an artist in a world saturated with McDonalds, comics and all the other symbols of our time. Speaking in February 1983, some two decades after the landmark New Realists exhibition in New York, the artist revealed his admiration for the artificiality of images around him: Only once you know that, they can be moved as far as possible from realism, but you want it to be taken for realism. It becomes as stylised as you can get away with, in an ordinary sense, not stylised.

What does it mean to pursue realism in art anyway? Van Goghs dirty shoes may well have looked different if the artist had been living in a world of billboards and department store catalogues. Lichtenstein occupies himself with a different kind of truth, artificial and self-conscious but no less realistic for it. Red Lamp, created on the eve of his eighth decade, is a mundane residential scene reduced to its most basic visual form. The flat surface, the bold, cartoon-like outlines, the thick yellow frame, the wholesale absence of context, the reflection on the lamp like one of the Ben Day dots in his most famous work: these factors strip away any pretence of truth or psychological insight, focusing instead on the forms before us.

1. Schjeldahl, P., Lucky Strokes, The New Yorker, New York, 11 November 2001 [accessed August 2023]:
2. Alloway, L., Roy Lichtenstein, Abbeville Press, New York, 1983

Ashleigh Wilson
Ashleigh Wilson is the author of Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing (2016), On Artists (2019) and A Year with Wendy Whiteley (2022).

We use our own and third party cookies to enhance your experience of our site, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing. By continuing to use our site you consent to the use of cookies. Please refer to our privacy and cookie policy.