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27 October 2009  |  Contemporary Art   |  Article

Pop Art: Uncovering Subtle Tensions

According to Christie's Post-War and Contemporary Art specialist Jonathan Laib, a closer look at this group of paintings reveals the irony, wit and emotion that successful Pop Artists conjured in a seemingly effortless manner.

“If we peel back the layers of mass-produced imagery, youth culture, glamour and visual seduction, we can uncover subtle tensions that artists like Warhol, Lichtenstein, and Ramos deliberately glossed over…leaving us to consider a complexity far greater than what first may appear.”

Andy Warhol’s iconic flowers allow for dual interpretation and create an underlying yet persistent layer of tension. These deceptively simple white flowers can be viewed as both celebratory and funerary. Warhol began painting flowers on the heels of his Death and Disaster series of 1962–1963, which depicted horrific real-world events and imagery such as brutal car accidents, race riots and electric chairs. Because of this chronology, one can’t help but wonder if the thematic ambiguity of the Flowers series was residually affected by the earlier series.

Despite Roy Lichtenstein’s aesthetic of mechanical execution (through Benday dots, heavy black outlines, and flattened picture plane), the imagery of Nude with Street Scene Painting conveys a remarkable amount of human emotion. The nude lies tearful on her bed, a Hopper-esque painting in the background suggesting the possible abandonment by a departing lover only moments before. The up-close treatment of this damsel in distress recalls Lichtenstein’s classic female nudes of the early 1960’s.

Having studied in California under Wayne Thiebaud, painter and printmaker Mel Ramos exaggerates his imagery through a luscious brushstroke that was undoubtedly influenced by Thiebaud’s example. Ramos’mass media iconography ranges from magazine advertisements to pin-up girls and comic book heroes, including Son of Spectre, illustrated here. By incorporating these subjects in the realm of "high art", Ramos identifies himself with one of Pop Art's central credoes, calling into question the nature of originality and reproduction.

Related Sale
Sale 2219
Post-War & Contemporary Evening Sale
10 Nov 2009
New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Sale 2220
Post-War & Contemporary Morning Session
11 Nov 2009
New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Related Departments
Post-War & Contemporary Art

Related Artists
Roy Lichtenstein
Mel Ramos
Andy Warhol

Roy Lichtenstein
Mel Ramos
Andy Warhol
Post War

Sale 2220, Lot 136
ANDY WARHOL (1928-1987)
silkscreen ink on canvas
Estimate: $60,000 - $80,000

© 2009 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Sale 2219, Lot 15
Collage for Nude with Street Scene Painting
magna, graphite, tape and printed paper collage on board
Estimate: $600,000 - $800,000

© Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Sale 2220, Lot 138
MEL RAMOS (B. 1935)
Son of Spectre
oil on canvas
Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000

© Mel Ramos/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY