Published on 18 Feb 2013 Sections ,

Whaam! Roy Lichtenstein – the art and the artist

The first full-scale retrospective of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein in 20 years opens at Tate Modern, but as Jane Deith discovers from the late artist’s wife, there was more to him than Whaam!

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective opens at Tate Modern six years after the death of the cult American artist.

The exhibition features some of his greatest known works such as Whaam! and Drowning Girl, on loan from the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

It also features some of his lesser known works such as his first big piece, Look Mickey, on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.

Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam! is one of the many works featured in the Tate Modern's retrospective (picture: Reuters)

In total the show brings together 125 paintings and sculptures by the artist, whose images of consumerism poked fun at mass culture.

Behind the paintings, he was “a rationalist, a kind of humanist”, his wife Dorothy told Channel 4 News.

It was pop art, but it was proper art, Jane Deith writes. 

You'll recognise a Lichtenstein - even if you don't know the painter's name. The print like dots, the primary colours, the industrial black's graphic and it's cult.

Roy Lichtenstein broke free of the breathless brushstrokes of expressionism - and his work took people aback - they thought it was vulgar. However, his images were only superficially superficial.

His fusion of grand themes, such as love and war, with consumerist images challenged the notion that even our most dramatic moments are original. That even in moments of trauma we imitate the media we consume.

As his wife of 30 years, Dorothy, told me, Roy had an "ironic sense of life", even before he started painting pop art. It was, perhaps, that that has kept his paintings looking so fresh.