Finding myself in Milan on business recently, I took the opportunity to duck out of the garish carnival of the city’s street life to take in an exhibition featuring one of the few artists who can out-dazzle a Milanese fashionista: Roy Lichtenstein.
The title of the show – Meditations on Art – is surely the curator’s idea of an in-joke. There is nothing pensive about these big, beautiful and bright compositions. They bring you the modern world as it is – loud brash and exhilarating.
Washington Crossing the Delaware II
Lichtenstein had one idea early on in his career and it lasted him his entire working life. It was, though, a very good idea – modern media is so saturating and enervating that we crave for it to be lampooned, turned into burlesque, and transformed into ironical high art. As early as 1951, he was sending up American artists in works such as ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware II’ which satirises the painting of the same name by Emanuel Leutze. But it was when he changed his aim from pompous American history painters to the no-less affected creators of modern comic books that he truly struck gold. The Benday dot pattern which Lichtenstein made his signature style was also appropriated – it is a process invented by a printer named Benjamin Day which uses the four process colours – cyan, magenta, yellow and black – to create subtler shades through precise repetition.
The reiteration of a single attitude, no matter how novel, can grow wearisome. I most enjoyed the sculptures in this show, where the light-headed comic book themes are rendered in clunky slabs of bronze and gold.
As I made my way around the gallery, it occurred to me that a final irony of Pop Art is that it shoved aside the comic book art it from which it stole, rendering the artists not piratical pioneers but the very emblem of mainstream cool – the ‘anti-aesthetic’ has become the only aesthetic, pop culture the sole culture. As Lichtenstein might put it: ‘Wham!’
Julian Cloran: Visual Diary
Julian Cloran is a Brighton-based artist whose paintings and sculptures burst with vivid colour and vibrant imagery. Drawing on surrealism, abstract expressionism and comic book culture, Cloran has fashioned a unique artistic vocabulary reflecting a creative imagination which is all his own.
Cloran explains that he is a self-taught artist who began painting as a kind of therapy.
“The house I grew up in was full of arguments and art was a way of escape from the atmosphere of rows,” he says. “I guess aged about 11 I was influenced by Lust for Life. I can see now how creaky Kirk Douglas’ performance was and how melodramatic the movie is – but at the time it struck me with great force. This was how an artist should live!”
Cloran cites his main influences as Peter Blake, Pop Art in general and Magritte but adds: “There are probably a ton of influences I’m unaware of – they just seep into your consciousness. “
Julian Cloran: Untitled
One group he has little time for is the New British Artists – the likes of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marcus Harvey who have rarely strayed far from the headlines since the notorious Sensation! show at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997.
“I think they are one-trick ponies,” he says. “They take an innovative idea – from Duchamp say or from Jackson Pollock – and they endlessly recycle it. It becomes tedious. Sam Taylor Wood’s installation of David Beckham sleeping is a good example of the art world feeding off celebrity and Damien Hirst is probably the best known franchise in the art world. Good luck to him, but Tesco has as much to do with exciting art as he has.”
Cloran concludes: “I know that if you are going to sell your work you have to promote yourself – and the fact that I haven’t is probably down to a character failing. I need to paint; I don’t need to sell myself.”