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Is Modern Art Relevant To The Everyday?

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Mon 23 October, 2017

With Tate Liverpool embarking on a nine month exhibition looking at the work of Roy Lichtenstein, Gary Dougherty considers the influence of the Modern artists on our everyday lives.

I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like!”

This is the refrain uttered by those who, for reasons best known to themselves, claim to not ‘get’ or not to like modern art. But if you scratch deeper does their claim really stand up to scrutiny?

Historically, art has often included figurative references such as the anamorphic skull (representing mortality) and various other objects in Holbein’s The Ambassadors.

However, before the Modern period many art works were generally representational and depicted real people, things or landscapes. These are the art works that many people like and understand. Whilst the roots of the Modern movement are complex, the invention of photography in the early 1800’s meant that people were able to capture detailed images in a way that many traditional artists could not. This perhaps was one of the reasons for the Modern artists to move to more abstract work that depicted the world in a different way.

At first this abstract art can seem difficult to understand, but just as the high fashion of the Milan or Paris catwalks filters its way down to the high street, so too does fine art extend itself into the everyday.

Andy Warhol’s front cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico

The influence of one of Pop Art’s most famous contributors, Andy Warhol, can be seen all around us. The famous album cover for The Velvet Underground finds its way onto prints, badges, pendants, t-shirts and even Converse shoes. Similarly, his now ubiquitous Marilyn Monroe Diptych appears in many guises and is the clear inspiration for the logo of the Scouse Bird Blog and webzine.

Roy Lichtenstein’s tendency to borrow from everyday items such as comics and take them out of context also appears to be the inspiration for the range of popular greetings cards based on photos from the 1940’s and 1950’s that are taken out of context and adorned with irreverent captions. Even the comedy sketches of Armstrong & Miller featuring the WWII RAF pilots are a form of Pop Art as they take figures traditionally depicted as heroes and overlay them with the modern slang and linguistic style of teenagers.

The Keep Calm and Carry On series of paraphernalia is also a form of Pop Art that has taken a 1939 propaganda poster and morphed it into a whole range of captions and products. That this has been inverted to read “Now Panic and Freak Out” shows the power of the Pop Art ethos to be irreverent.

Linking Pop Art to the everyday is easy, after all this is where it drew much of its material. But it is not the only Modern art form to have had influence on our everyday lives. The Channel 4 logo in all its guises shows clear connections to the abstract works of Piet Mondrian such as “Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow”. The recent deconstruction of the Channel 4 logo to become a collection of moving blocks mirrors the progression of Mondrian’s work in which the form of a tree is slowly mutated to just a series of lines and blocks. The link to Mondrian is clear in the album cover for the 1986 compilation Hits 4.

The Hits 4

Surrealism too can be seen in many places, but most the most obvious examples are in film. Dali himself devised the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound and the surrealist paintings of Giorgio de Chirico seem to be the clear inspiration for the oddly distorted urban landscapes used in Inception and Dr Strange. The now familiar ‘Lips Sofas’ are usually taken from a 1972 Studio 65 version of the Salvador Dali original; they are seen as contemporary or quirky, but owe their origins to the surrealism movement. And to show you can’t escape surrealism, it turned up in the pub on this can of pale ale with its skull hot-air balloons and vibrant colours.

That Modern art has infiltrated our lives can be shown by the how popular the works of Monet, Van Goch and others of the Impressionist movement have become. At the time these were produced they cause controversy and were considered Avant Garde. Now they adorn many a lounge in the UK and people are often unaware that are classed as Modern.

For me the greatest tragedy is that Cubism seems to be largely absent from the everyday. The concept of looking at an object or scene from every angle simultaneously is both exciting and weird and can create strange and sometimes grotesque images.

The sense of awe I felt when I realised that an entire room of painting in the Picasso Museum in Barcelona were actually of the same scene has stayed with me for over two decades and it would be nice to see such images more frequently.

Roy Lichtenstein in Focus runs until 17th June 2018.

 

 

 

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