Monday, October 6, 2008

The Originality of Roy Lichtenstein

I've always liked Roy Lichtenstein, and part of what I thought was so cool about his work was that he was very clever about capturing the look and feel of comic book art...that his paintings totally could have been frames from 50's-era comic books.

However, what I recently found out is: they were frames from 50's-era comic books. He copied them. Line by line. Word for word.

And I'm not sure how to feel about it.

This fellow David Barsalou has somehow found all the originals and set up a great page where you can look at them side by side.

I mean, maybe everyone knew this except me. Maybe Lichtenstein was very open about it, and that was part of the statement or something.

I suppose there's nothing wrong with copying. My favorite play Hamlet was essentially a ripoff of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy. [Spanish has the best alternate title ever: The Spanish Tragedie: or, Hieronimo is mad againe].

There is a painting that, I think, directly addresses the copying. Lichtenstein rarely altered the original version's text -- the sound effects, the speech and thought bubbles -- at all. But there's one painting where the speech bubble has been changed completely.

The original depicts a pair of nervous eyes and the text: "What? Why did you ask that? What do you know about the Stones of Babylon? Speak up!"

However, in Lichtenstein's version, we have the same worried eyes, but the text has been replaced with, "What? Why did you ask that? What do you know about my image duplicator?" which, if you ask me, can be nothing but the artist saying, "Yeah, I know they're copied...duh!"

1 comment:

Patrick said...

That's too bad. Juxtaposed with the originals, Lichtenstein's prints look like simplified copies, particularly the dogfights. I'm not convinced he's done with comic books what Shakespeare did with Kyd. More like he took a pair of scissors, isolated a few panels, and saw that out of context the panels seem to change; like if Shakespeare had jumbled the scene order of Spanish Tragedy around and left it at that.