A new exhibition at The Orbital Comics Gallery explores the widespread appropriation of comic book art by pop artists such as Roy Lichtenstein. CR spoke to curator Rian Hughes about giving credit where it’s due.
Roy Lichtenstein is one of the world’s most celebrated artists. 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 Rian Hughes, is that most – if not all of it – is appropriated from comic book artists without credit or compensation.
“Almost every painting [Lichstenstein] ever did was appropriated without asking permission or paying royalties. If he was a musician, he would be facing a copyright lawsuit,” claims Hughes.
Hughes is the curator of Image Duplicator: an exhibition opening on May 16 at The Orbital Comics Gallery. The exhibition features prints by illustrators, designers and comic book artists including Mark Blamire, Dave Gibbons and Jason Atomic, who were asked to re-appropriate Lichtenstein’s work by re-visiting the source material and creating something original, while commenting on the process of appropriation.
It was put together to celebrate the art that Lichtenstein’s work is based on – works that Hughes says are “better crafted, more inventive and more original than Lichtenstein’s copies.”
“We’re not taking anything from Lichtenstein – we’re simply revisiting the work that he appropriated,” he adds.
Lichtenstein isn’t the only one whose work is appropriated from lesser known commercial artists. As Hughes points out, pop artists such as Glenn Brown have also made millions selling prints based on illustrations by lesser-known illustrators.
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.
Image Duplicator opens on Thursday and runs until May 31. Prints will be sold through print-process.com and all proceeds go to The Hero Initiative – an American charity set up to help struggling comic book artists. As well as giving these artists the credit and compensation they are due, Hughes hopes the exhibition will encourage a wider debate about appropriation and a more inclusive approach to art.
“We’ve had two offers to turn it into a book, and we’d like to do an American version of the show. But what we’re really hoping to do [with Image Duplicator] is encourage people to celebrate good art regardless of where it came from,” he says.
Images (from top): Dave Gibbons’ re-appropriation of Whaam!, inspired by illustrations by Irv Novick; Mark Blamire after Jerry Grandenetti; Kes Forrester after Dmitri Kasterine and Garry Leach after Unknown.
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