The Tate is to show another side of Roy Lichtenstein, one of the central figures in American pop art, whose comic strip paintings are among the most iconic pieces of 20th century art. But his widow also revealed that he was “not a fan of comics and cartoons”.
Dorothy Lichtenstein, the artist’s second wife, said: “When people think of Roy, they think of those cartoon images from the early ‘60s. But he had another close to 40 years after that working on other imagery.”
Tate Modern is staging the first comprehensive retrospective of the artist since his death in 1997. Lichtenstein was famous for his works based on comic strips coloured using hand-painted dots.
The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, brings together more than 125 works. As well as the Tate’s own Whaam!, above, and familiar images including Drowning Girl and Masterpiece the show includes little seen sculptures, landscapes, drawings and a series of female nudes.
“I think this exhibition is particularly clear. Walking through it, I had a wonderful sense of continuity and a progression of Roy’s work,” Dorothy Lichtenstein said.
She added her husband had felt “somewhat” frustrated at being pigeonholed for the comic book pictures and as a pop artist “but he accepted it”.
Despite being known for paintings such as Whaam!, Lichtenstein “was not a fan of comics and cartoons,” Dorothy Lichtenstein said before adding: “It seemed about as far away from the artistic image as you can get. And to transform that into a formal painting appealed to him.”
It took the co-curators Sheena Wagstaff and James Rondeau five years to put the exhibition together. Jack Cowart, founding executive director of the Lichtenstein Foundation, said it was an opportunity “to hopefully expand the canon of Roy Lichtenstein” adding: “We wanted people to say: ‘Gee I didn’t know he did that too’.”
Roy Lichtenstein, who died in 1997 at the age of 73, started painting in the late 1940s, but it was not until the early 1960s that he developed his signature style inspired by industrial printing processes.
He carried on painting up to his death and Mr Cowart said the artist had been preparing another series. “In my view, he was poised for the next big leap,” he said.