Lichtenstein Art of Appropriation New Documentary Review

Poster shot for Whaam!  Blah!  Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation

A picture: Courtesy of Hussey-Cotton Films Ltd

Pop artist Roy LichtensteinHis work is immediately recognizable: giant colorful canvases; Ben-Day dots; images strongly inspired by comics. This last element has caused controversy over the years, as critics point out, “inspired by” it can certainly look very similar “torn.” Nov documentary digging in.

Directed by James L. Hussey, who told io9 he got the idea for his film 2014 post on this website –Wow! Blah! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation he gives the viewer the chance to decide whether Lichtenstein was “a great artist, a thief, or both,” providing plenty of background, context, and differing opinions. Talking heads include art curators and other art world insiders, Lichtenstein experts (both pro and con) and several comic artists including Dave Gibbons (Guards) and Zippy the Pinhead creator Bill Griffith—as well as industry veterans Hy Eisman and Russ Heath, whose art was among the works Lichtenstein “appropriated” in the 1960s.

The film wants to devote equal time to Lichtenstein’s supporters and detractors, as it shows his career path from a not-so-successful abstract expressionist to a radical new sensation who, together with his New York contemporary Andy Warhol, helped introduce pop art into the world’s most prestigious galleries and museums. We met David Barsalou, whose Deconstructing Roy Lichtenstein’s website reflects his decades of research in finding Lichtenstein’s source material (he estimates he now has 95% of all the original paintings used by the artist); we hear Eisman explain that he was paid $10 to pencil the plate page that Lichtenstein later made famous; we watch an auctioneer sell a Lichtenstein painting for more than $150 million. Wow! Blah! also goes a little deeper into art history and explains that the artist is nothing new very tight inspired by the work of another artist and elaborates on why many see Lichtenstein’s work as transformative, as he tended to enlarge the originals, slightly adjust the figures, etc.

Image for article titled Was Lichtenstein a Great Artist or a Rip-Off Artist?  A new document investigates

A picture: Courtesy of Hussey-Cotton Films Ltd

The documentary also delves into legal and copyright issues – pointing out that even if the comics Lichtenstein borrowed from wanted to sue him, they wouldn’t be able to because their work was owned by the publishers who hired them – but also, perhaps most compellingly, the ethical considerations swirling around the whole situation. By way of comparison, the film points out, Warhol’s soup cans may not have been “original,” but everyone knew where the logo came from, and Campbell certainly didn’t mind the free publicity. More currently, in the work of Banksy, people know that he takes an existing, iconic image – a scene from Pulp Fiction, for example – and change it in a certain way, like in this case swapping weapons with bananas. This is not the same as Lichtenstein’s method of transforming an obscure comic strip that very few people would recognize. He’s a much trickier case, mostly because he never gave credit or apparently even acknowledged the artists whose work he appropriated… or outright stole, as some in the document claim.

At the end, Wow! Blah! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation is a really fascinating look at the divide between ‘high art’ and ‘low art’. The doc aims to be neutral, but with plenty of visual material from Barsalou’s archives, not to mention genuinely moving interviews with the underage Hy Eisman and Russ Heath – and, seriously, those awesome auction scenes – it’s hard not to wish it was. this “great artist” was a bit more transparent about (and respectful of) his inspirations.

Wow! Blah! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation it’s currently playing at film festivals (the next one, according to the director, is the Crystal Palace International Film Festival in London in March; it’ll also be at the Omaha Film Festival and the California Documentary Film Festival in Sebastopol) and has started distribution, but doesn’t have a release date yet. Hussey told io9 that he eventually hopes to sign a deal with the streaming service. Watch the trailer here; stay up to date on where the movie is playing official Facebook page.

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