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Last Updated: Monday, 1 March, 2004, 16:31 GMT
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
80 paintings and drawings spanning nearly forty years fill the Hayward Gallery in London, an artist's expression of popular culture, pulp fiction, and mass produced items.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review taken from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight Review.)

What I was disappointed by was I thought I liked Lichtenstein. Everyone is familiar with lots of those images, but actually when I was confronted in a room, or in several rooms with so many of them, I found I didn't like them, because I couldn't really look at them. To me there is no, I mean "crude" is the wrong word, but there's nothing going on between the person looking at them and the picture. They feel so finite, they are actually very static and artificial. I read somewhere that actually he wants them to feel static and artificial, but I can't see what the joy is in that. I felt I was always moving on very quickly to the next. I didn't get very much from this. There is no narrative and you are not compelled as the viewer to supply any narrative.

But yet in some of the paintings I suppose, like, particularly In The Car is one where you know there has been an argument, and so in a sense you are meant to create your own scenario, aren't you?

But do you? I mean yeah, I like In The Car, I mean I like them. My 13-year-old daughter came with me and she said, "It's really cool." It is cool, but what else is it? I mean I didn't want to know why they were in that car. They didn't feel real to me. And also I think they show all these comic strips that he took them from and I actually I can't see what he added, is my problem.

So it's no difference from the illustration in the Marvel comics and so forth?

Well, it is different. It's funny actually when you look at how much it is different, how much he has changed it, even things like Whaam!. Actually, I am with your 13 year old daughter on this. I mean I though like the first room there was just like a whole bunch of hip-hop singles, Whaam!, which I have never seen in the original, it was absolutely great, and you move into the second big room, and you've got things like Big Painting Number 6, in which he is working with his own material, great big canvases, everything is fabulous. Then you get onto the difficult third album and he starts doing these landscapes and it is like a pop group starting to break off and doing some B sides. I kept just having to go back to that first massive Whaam! painting with the Car on one side and the Oh, Damn! painting on the other side. And I'm sorry, those things still work for me as like great pop tunes.

Yeah, but when he goes on to doing the parodies of Dali and so forth, he loses it.

For me, that was definitely the prog-rock difficult '70s music which I could have lived without.

What was most interesting about this for me was that the exhibition felt very slight to me. I know it was probably meant to be slight in some ways. I thought that Lichtenstein was quite fun. He didn't seem a important artist but he seemed quite an enjoyable one. As I went through the exhibition and got higher up to the third level I thought he is also quite a bad artist in some ways, and some of the stuff really wouldn't have been out of place on the Bayswater Road I thought, it was really that crummy. And then I went and watched, they have two films showing in the gallery as well. And interestingly, given that he made a career out of appropriating other people's images, when you see it reproduced on film again, and when you see these films from the '60s and the 1980s of his work, a) it's much broader than you realise from the exhibition, and also it's much more interesting. There are murals, there are sculptures. I misinterpreted some of the paintings as being weak attempts to try and sort of pay tribute to artists like Mondrian and Picasso, and then I realised that it's all a very clever pastiche and you see a lot of this stuff in the film. And so there is a very good exhibition at the Hayward, but it's not on the walls, it's actually in the cinema.

The catalogue gives a lot more hint to Lichtenstein than what's actually at the Hayward. But some of the things I thought were most impressive were the drawings. He just looked like a very good graphic artist?

Absolutely. It is interesting, I mean I am a great fan of comic book art anyway. It's interesting the way in which, in order to be able to do those huge adaptations, he has to be somebody who is actually almost a very good comic book artist himself. In terms of that thing, the satire and the sarcasm of those later pieces, I think that is all there, but I think the problem with it is, it's just actually not very fulfilling.

And it's also a shame that he got all the credit. All those great comic book artists whom he merely brought attention to, and nobody knows their names, you know, and he sort of takes their work, but he does nothing other than blow it up.

But wasn't it great to be able to see the original Whaam! drawing?

Yes, it was. It was fabulous. It was better than Lichtenstein I though!!

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