Hatton Gallery’s latest exhibition continues a relationship with Pop Art dating back to its origins. In 2017, the gallery hosted an exhibition, Pioneers of Pop, naming Newcastle as one of the birthplaces of Pop Art in Britain. Richard Hamilton kickstarted the idea whilst teaching at Newcastle University in the early 1960s whilst his contemporary, Roy Lichtenstein, was playing an instrumental role in igniting the Pop Art movement in America. ARTIST ROOMS: Roy Lichtenstein focuses primarily on the end of his career, during which he heavily referenced his earlier work, exploring themes of reflection and mirroring and demonstrating his fascination with the history of art.
Lichtenstein’s trademark humour and optimism is evident in ‘Reflections on The Scream’ (1990), which references Edvard Munch’s iconic painting. As with his earlier pieces, Lichtenstein sources material from his collection of 1940s illustrations to create this work, along with his signature hand-painted Ben-Day dots. ‘Reflections on Crash’ (1990) looks back nostalgically on the war comics of the 1940s (and the imagery found in the artist’s works of the the early 1960s), the image distanced through the introduction of a frame and metalised PVC glazing. Similarly, ‘Reflections on Brushstrokes’ (1990) references the 1960s series in which the brushstroke was introduced as a motif, and then further deconstructed throughout his career as a comment on the gestural mark.
In the ‘Water Lilies’ series (1992), he deviates from the primary colours of his earlier work to employ a wider tonal range. These Monet-inspired creations are quite literal in their exploration of reflection: Lichtenstein uses reflective stainless steel, painstakingly punched with swirls to emulate the texture of American cars, in a subversive nod to the auto industry.
‘In Two Nudes’ (1994), Lichtenstein explores the nude for the first time. Borrowing from a 1963 comic book called Girls’ Romance, he undermines the innocence of the original image by depicting the two women nude and presenting them as objects of desire. It is an unsettling, provocative piece, raising questions about gender equality and the objectification of women at a time when the #MeToo movement was still many years off.
Some of Lichtenstein’s earlier pieces are on show alongside the later reflective work, including ‘Set of Dinnerware Objects’ (1966). In this series of ceramics, he toys with the idea of 2D and 3D in a fusion of dots and jagged swirls.
ARTIST ROOMS has been developed in collaboration with Tate and National Galleries of Scotland and is part of a wider initiative to tour important bodies of art around the UK in solo exhibitions. Hatton Gallery has undergone an extensive renovation in recent years and provides an impressive space for this important exhibition, a masterclass in the technique of a Pop Art giant.
ARTIST ROOMS: Roy Lichtenstein is at Hatton Gallery until 4 January 2020.
Caro Fentiman is a writer and musician living in Northumberland.