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You may have already heard about Orbital Comics’ Image Duplicator art show in London (probably via this piece at The Beat): This story is right in my wheelhouse, but I was resisting writing about it until there was a large enough stockpile of art from it to present here. The show is a reaction both to the recent Roy Lichtenstein exhibition at the city’s already-iconic Tate Modern gallery, and to the BBC’s coverage of the event (which I wrote about at the time elsewhere).
Dave Gibbons is a long-standing critic of Lichtenstein (you can find footage online of him complaining about what he calls Lichtenstein’s “dishonesty” from as far back as 1993). Gibbons appeared on the BBC’s documentary to put the case for the accusations of plagiarism that may always dog Lichtenstein’s reputation. The segment featuring Gibbons debating with presenter Alastair Sooke was filmed in front of the famous “Whaam!” canvas. Sooke was all too dismissive of Irv Novick, somewhat deriding his work in order to flatter Lichtenstein. It seems odd Sooke chose to criticize Novick’s compositional decisions and praise Lichtenstein’s, when every element of Roy’s piece was lifted from Irv’s. Anyway, these new perceived slights seem to have been enough to stir Rian Hughes, Jason Atomic, and the Orbital Gallery regulars into action.
One of the most persistent criticisms of Lichtenstein from comics artists was his consistent failure to accredit his sources, which instantly seems insulting and dismissive: as if comics are fair game for the fine art world to trample over and plunder at will. The Image Duplicator show seeks to redress and rebalance this, asking artists to return to Lichtenstein’s original sources, and then reinterpret them again, this time crediting the original. The show’s mission statement was drafted by comics polymath Rian Hughes (again, another long-standing critic of Lichtenstein):
“Pop artist Roy Lichtensein currently has a show on at the Tate. While the public is intimately familiar with his work, what they may be unaware of is how closely many of his images were “appropriated” from comic artists like Irv Novick, Russ Heath, Jack Kirby, John Romita and Joe Kubert, who received no fee or credit.
Is this an act of brilliant recontexturalisation? The elevation of commercial “low” art to “high” art? Art world snobbery? Artistic licence? Cultural annexation? Gallery shortsightedness? Or something else?
This show is a chance for real comic-book artists (and other “commercial artists” – illustrators, designers etc) to ask these kinds of questions and share their views, via their work.Every interested comic artist (or illustrator, graphic designer or other “commercial artist”) should “re-reappropriate” one of the comic images Lichtenstein used, and rework it, using some of their ‘commercial art’ drawing skills, to warp and twist it into something interesting and original, and in the process to comment on this type of appropriation.
The IMPORTANT thing to stress is that you’d be going back to the source material and re-reappropriating (sic) Coletta, Novick, Kirby et al – NOT copying Lichtenstein, as we don’t want copyright issues from the Lichtenstein estate …see this as a celebratory, positive show which aims to get the point across that the original artists deserve credit and respect …As suggested by Dave Gibbons, money raised from selling prints or originals will be donated to the Hero Initiative, which helps down-on-their-luck comics veterans: http://www.heroinitiative.org/ Again, a nice way to Give Back the Art.”
The deadline for submissions is getting close (Saturday, April 6), so entries are starting to pile up, both at Hughes’ Facebook page for the show, and contributor Steve Cook’s blog. Here’s some fine looking examples — Lichtenstein estate lawyers, start your engines!