Due to obviously leading a very busy and important life, this post has been quite a while in the making. I visited the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective in the opening week but nevertheless, the show is still on at Tate Modern and still attracting record numbers of visitors.
It was obvious that there was going to be a serious “Lichtenstein effect” in fashion this season; as evidenced all over the S/S13 catwalks last September.
Black and White
Louis Vuitton and Balmain
Marc Jacobs and Meadham Kirchhoff
But when I walked into Topshop last month and saw the way in which they had referenced Lichtenstein I couldn’t help but think what tacky crap it all was! Just for the record, I am usually a Topshop fan but this time I could find few redeeming features in the Lichtenstein/pop-art inspired pieces. It was all far too obvious! You can find cheap Lycra dresses with comic strip writing for a fiver down on the market most days…it’s nothing new.
It then struck me how many parallels can be drawn between the work of Roy Lichtenstein and high street fashion today. Mainly the ideas of mass consumerism, popular culture and reproduction. Lichtenstein was obsessed with the banale, with the everyday crap of our lives, and he took his inspiration from the whole clichéd, throwaway culture of the times. And now perhaps high street fashion is the most disposable item of all; we buy and dispose of clothing at an alarming rate without a second thought.
Hot Dog with Mustard, 1963
Step-on Can with Leg, 1961
Another point that can also link Lichtenstein to high street fashion is plagiarism. Lichtenstein was accused of plagiarising comic strips and angered many comic strip artists who felt that his work was merely a rip off of theirs and didn’t deserve the acclaim it received. In response to this some people from the art world would say that he simply used the comics as inspiration and in fact improved them. In a way he took something for the masses and made it more exclusive – the opposite way to how the high street copies catwalk pieces.
Whaam, 1963 by Lichtenstein and also the original comic strip image above.
At the same time Lichtenstein also did a series of ‘idiot versions’ of famous artworks including pieces by Picasso, Monet and Mondrian. Whereby he would reproduce the famous pieces but in his own recognisable style. He wanted the pieces to deliberately appear ‘flat, impersonal and mechanical,’ taking his source and stamping it with his own distinct identity.
Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, 1955 and Lichtenstein’s Femme d’Alger, 1963
So in a sense he took high art and made it more accessible, in a similar vein to how the high street parodies catwalk fashion. The difference being the high street does it in a very ‘copycat’ way, without adding an identity of their own. Whereas Lichtenstein said “the things I have apparently parodied, I actually admire”. If the high street worked with the same sensitivity and appreciation for the original pieces it’s possible we could have more affordable versions of high fashion that are not merely crude, mechanical reproductions, but ones that truly have a merit of their own.