Pinky Says: REMEMBERING ROY LICHTENSTEIN
There is a major Roy Lichtenstein retrospective on right now at the Chicago Art Institute. Yes it is the same artist whose work just commanded $44,000,000 at auction. But forgive me if I think back fondly to the early 1970s when my children were young and Roy came to town for a small show at the Nelson. It was Leslie, my 6 year old, who discovered my address book with Roy’s name in it. She laboriously printed a fan letter to him to wit: “You don’t know me but you were at my house for supper. I really love your paintings. I just wanted you to know.” Several weeks later a package arrived addressed to her. It was a large book of Lichtenstein drawings and the dedication read “To Leslie Kase with all best wishes. Thank you for your very nice letter. Roy Lichtenstein 1971. ”
It may seem strange that a child could capture the magic of a world famous artist when many adults about her were puzzled by his work. However that is what actually happened. Today Lichtenstein’s major retrospective is a compelling enlightening experience. It will travel to the National Gallery in Washington, the Tate Modern in London, and the Pompidou in Paris. There are comic book canvases, landscapes, nudes, brush strokes, art deco, sculptures, and observations of other famous artists’ masterpieces. And there are drawings never before exhibited or seen which are the beginnings of understanding Lichtenstein’s thought processes. All of these are brought together for the first time. What they reveal is the artist as a breathtaking thinker and a crackerjack student of art history. He had great insight into the styles of others such as Monet, de Kooning, and Mondrian. His work has absorbing contradictions, diversity and complexity only now realized.
Lichtenstein challenges us to look at the world and art itself from new viewpoints. He is the most sophisticated of the major pop artists. He was able to move on from the great cartoon works to refine and discover a way of commenting on our condition in the late 20th century as well as considering the great art and work of the past. Furthermore he had elegant design capability and offered the viewer a rare opportunity to see the accomplishments of a vital contemporary painter and sculptor in his prime. It is a real joy to see and share with him in his thoughtful commentary and consideration.
One interesting comment tells us that Lichtenstein came upon creating his first pop painting while reading a little Golden Book to his young sons. Perhaps that is the reason that Leslie glommed on to him as her very favorite artist. Fifteen years later we had dinner with him and Leslie, now a young adult, told him how much she treasured the book he sent her. Lichtenstein smiled but did not comment. It was as if both of them understood that their contact was in another era long since gone. Lichtenstein’s art was a great gambit, one of the finest of the 20th century periods of making art. He knew what he was about and he has left a legacy worthy of celebration. The old saying — Know thyself, nothing in excess — allowed him to produce one art masterpiece after another and to create a body of work worthy of the encomiums it inspires.