First published in The Guardian, 15 October, 2014.
“The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content. However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to prove it by any rational line of argument”. Roy Lichtenstein
You can count on me Roy. Irrational arguments are my forte. Ask my wife.
The majority of Lichtenstein’s cartoon appropriations were from cartoonists working for DC Comics. Actually, it’s a trickier issue than it seems, magnified, in this case, by extreme discrepancies of fame and wealth. Having worked on both sides of the painting/comics divide I am loathe to come down exclusively on one side or the other. On the art side I feel one should be as free as possible to do anything you want (for me that’s a fundamental premise of art – a zone in life where one is allowed complete mental freedom). However my natural sympathy is always for the person who has done the majority of the creative work – the thinking, the composing, the drawing. Obviously, in this case, the cartoonist. One slight defence of Lichtenstein is that today it is far more expected and accepted to seek permissions, acknowledge, and credit the “source’ artists, than it was in his.
Anyway, make up your own mind. Three interesting links below.
There is no doubt that Lichtenstein was a masterful designer – see the changes he made from his source material for his most famous painting here.
Here is how one of the cartoonists felt, in a strip drawn very recently.
And here is a side-by-side list of Lichtenstein’s paintings with the cartoons from which they were derived.
There you go – case closed.
First published in The Guardian, 25 June 2014.
I know, I know – fart jokes are an incredibly subtle form of humour and this one will have wafted over the heads of less perceptive readers. I have learnt my lesson and will dumb it down in future. I don’t want to spend my life alone in an ivory tower of uber-sophisticated humour. But don’t get me wrong – I love my tower. No matter how high property prices go I refuse to sell. It’s my dream home and to even consider selling it would be a slap in the faces of those 7,463 selfless elephants who gave their trunks. It would get a really good price though – it’s the only ivory tower in the street and I know for a fact that everyone around here is jealous. To give just one example, the postman Mr Wang breaks off a bit every time he delivers the post. I once caught him in the act; he was stuffing my doorknob into his mailbag. When I berated him for his jealousy he wailed that he was not jealous, just sterile. WTF? Maybe I should move – so many nutters around here.
In their book “Art as Therapy”, Alain De Botton and the philosopher John Armstrong ask the question “what is art for?” They suggest that art is a therapeutic medium that can help us with our psychological frailties. I’ve got a couple of those which would inevitably draw jail-time were they discovered but luckily I have had a good hard look at a Corot and am now a functioning member of society. I jest of course. The Corot didn’t work. It is an interesting book and it certainly promotes closer looking at various artworks from unlikely angles which is a great thing, but my hackles are automatically raised by any New Age-y guff. But hey, I’m not everyone and for some people that works. Whether some art can be therapeutic or not is completely beside the point of why I love certain artworks. I certainly never think “how can this help me lead a better life?” when I look at a painting. Actually, it is probably a question of mental habits. I suspect that whatever De Botton looks at, not just art but anything, he is thinking about it in terms of how it could be reframed as a therapeutic tool. I just don’t think like that. When I look at something the questions and observations I make are completely different (potentially jailable). In fact, he either misses or intentionally ignores the central point of why art is sometimes overwhelmingly great – that visual music, with resonances and references tying together in beautiful and unexpected ways. As worthy as de Botton’s way of thinking may be, and he certainly thinks it is THE most worthy way (hence his confidence in wading into so many different areas, e.g. literature, philosophy, class, media, art, etc), I certainly don’t believe it is a more rewarding way of viewing art than my own, which has been the source of great pleasure. I welcome and enjoy his take on things but I suspect it is his belief that this is the best way, the proper way, of thinking about art that grates with some people – especially, it seems, with artists and critics, i.e. those who take profound pleasure in art but with completely different mental processes.
All part of life’s rich blanket I guess.
First published in The Guardian.com, 8 January 2014.
I drew this cartoon (drew? wrote? created? I never know which verb to use about making cartoons. Yes they are drawn but for me the idea is the most important thing so lots of writing is involved and…Hang on – should I even say verb there? Perhaps I should say past participle? Aaagh! I’m getting distracted. I’ll start again.)…
I manufactured this cartoon the night before it was published. I was at work in my occasional day job when I received an email from the Guardian saying they didn’t want to use the cartoon I had proposed. My previous cartoon had been published on Christmas day, for which I had fabricated 2 Christmas themed cartoons. I liked them both so I submitted the second as my next one. “Er…”, said my editor “You know it’s not Christmas anymore.” This was a very good point, and very well made.
So after finally getting my daughter to bed I frantically went through my notebooks and found this idea. I had been toying with it but had got stuck, thinking that the way forward was to find a married couple of famous pilots – not so easy. I now realised that the two people could be anonymous and it worked fine. A long night. The next day I went back to work, feeling quite unrefreshed.
It may surprise you to hear that an internationally famous cartoonist like myself has a day job. I often go partying mid-week with Madonna, David Beckham, Steve Bell, Cheryl Cole and a bunch of others but I am not in their wage bracket so at a certain point I have to leave, saying that I have to get up for work in the morning. They are normally very nice about it, except for Sting, who sometimes says things like “I hope the batteries in your alarm clock don’t run out, you £*@% loser.” I laugh along of course, but, you know, these things hurt. I guess that’s why they call him Sting.
There’s an exhibition here in London on Ice Age art at the incomparable British Museum. There was also, at the time of the cartoon’s publication, a retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern. The two must have coalesced in my mind as I was trying to come up with ideas. This cartoon is obviously a take off of Lichtenstein’s “Drowning Girl“. I have done a couple of cartoons now on Mr Licht, always avoiding the obvious dots angle. Actually if I could think of a dot joke that got more than a groan I’d be rushing to the drawing board. In this cartoon I like the thought that there could have been a “High Art” as opposed to popular culture back in cave man times. Perhaps there was. Maybe the stuff we dig up or stumble upon is just the rubbish and they made their greatest works of art out of paper.
(Yes, I know paper wasn’t invented then. It’s one of the many liberties I take – I bend logic to suit the outcome I desire. In my personal life this makes me a selfish liar and in my professional life unemployable. But it helps being funny.)
First published in guardian.co.uk on 9 May 2012
First Published 14th Sep 2011