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How revealing are Lichtenstein’s paintings?

We know Lichtenstein’s paintings as amusing but often impersonal imitations of popular culture. But are his artworks more revealing than we think?

Lichtenstein’s breakthrough came when he began imitating pop culture items like comic books and mail-order catalogues - bringing everyday culture into the world of fine art.

From 1961, Lichtenstein entered into a prolific creative period, generating some of his best-known works, including The Ring (Engagement),  Masterpiece, and Oh Jeff...I Love You, Too...But...

The war series dates from the same period and is based on comic books like All-American Men of War. In contrast, Lichtenstein was also inspired by the Secret Hearts comics, which dealt with women and romantic relationships. Often shown as passive, uncertain or crying, Lichtenstein’s women contrast sharply with the gruff masculinity of the war series men.  

Alastair Sooke suggests that perhaps, in the context of the breakdown of Lichtenstein’s own marriage, these paintings were closer to a ‘revenge fantasy’, that these women were how he wished the women in his own life would behave.

Lichtenstein’s paintings can be impersonal and difficult to read. But in creating such an unmistakeable aesthetic, Sooke explains, Lichtenstein created a style which is full of identity. He calls this paradox: ‘Lichtenstein’s Law’.

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