According to the Tate Modern – home to an exhibition of his work until May 27 – he is one of the true greats of the twentieth century. His paintings are worth millions, and even those with little knowledge of or interest in art will instantly recognise prints such as Whaam! and Drowning Girl.
But the trouble with Lichtenstein’s work, says [curator] Rian Hughes, is that most – if not all of it – is appropriated from comic book artists without credit or compensation. “Almost every painting [Lichtenstein] ever did was appropriated without asking permission or paying royalties. If he was a musician, he would be facing a copyright lawsuit,” claims Hughes. …
So why has this been allowed to continue for so long? Hughes believes it’s symptomatic of a widespread snobbery towards commercial art. “If you unearthed a rare song and sampled it, people would take great delight in pointing out the source material. Yet in the art world, the source material – particularly when it is created by commercial instead of fine artists – is often treated as if it is some kind of cultural clip art – “low” art that fine artists will elevate to “high” art,” he says. “[W]hat we’re really hoping to do [with Image Duplicator] is encourage people to celebrate good art regardless of where it came from,” he says.
(Image: Dave Gibbons’s re-appropriation of Whaam!, inspired by illustrations by Irv Novick, courtesy of Orbital Comics Gallery)