A Life in Art

Roy Lichtenstein’s Cat Parody #2

Roy Lichtenstein’s Cat Parody #2 is a free chapter from Famous Artists’ Cats: The Book
 
Illustrations: Deborah Julian
Stories: David Stone


The biggest mistake made with Roy Lichtenstein is underestimating him. One of the most admired and reviled visual artists of his day, Lichtenstein’s original ideas about what should go on a canvas flowed for many years… Even after his fame was firmly established.
 
His fame evolved from exploiting the esthetics of comic book art and advertising. He reimagined it on high art canvases. His pioneering use of Ben-Day dots, imitating print, made his paintings instantly recognizable.  So did his exaggerated parodies of comic book scenes.
 
Roy Lichtenstein’s Black Cat #2 / © Deborah Julian
What irritated people was his unwillingness to credit and compensate the artists whose work he parodied. Hd repurposed their creations as canvas art by blowing them up, but with little or no other alteration, on a much larger scale. 
 
Defenders pointed out that his technique was an original extension. It made something new.
 
And if it was so easy to pull off, how come none of the comic book artists did it? Nobody before or since pulled off a Lichtenstein, whatever inspired them.

Roy Lichtenstein’s Cat Parody: Friends  

Lost in the fame of his pop art paintings, which nowadays sell at auction for over $50 million, is the irony and humor Lichtenstein invested in his work. His pop art parodies played with the most exaggerated of emotional content from his sources. 
 
In Drowning Girl, one of his most famous, Lichtenstein paints a remarkably well made up woman in swirling waves. He includes the melodramatic caption, “I don’t care! I’d rather sink… than call Brad for help.”
 
No telephone appears to be available, nor is there an explanation for why her tears are visible underwater.
 
Say what you want about credits for parody, Lichtenstein chose wisely with his subjects.
 
Even more lost are some of the innovative works he created in the decades that followed.
 
Forget comics, he parodied the masters. He took major pictures by Van Gogh (Bedroom in Arles) and Matisse (Goldfish), moving them a hundred years forward.
 
Van Gogh’s new modernist bedroom is neat and clean and orderly. Matisse’s goldfish lose all their impressionist flourish, living now in a flat world of commercial imagery.
 
But Roy Lichtenstein’s funniest innovation is the one he used to draw the wonder of his black cat, Billy. In a sterile, modern living room where even the fruit looks plastic, the painter hung the precise opposite of a traditional painting.
 
Billy stares at something visitors to art galleries rarely see: the back side of a canvas painting. Raw canvas stretched across a frame, seen from behind.
 
Lichtenstein, it seems, chose, later in life, to moon the public in his own, still utterly original way.

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