Roy Lichtenstein POP Remix at the Australian National Gallery
Ken Tyler at the media launch of the Roy Lichtenstein exhibition, "Pop Remix" at the National Gallery of Australia. Photo: Graham Tidy
If Roy Lichtenstein were alive today, he would be 90 years old and thrilled that his work was still being discovered by new generations.
The pop artist, who died in 1997, was just as happy to be named ''one of the worst artists in America'' in the US media as he would be to become celebrated well into the 21st century.
A contemporary of Lichtenstein, Ken Tyler, a master printer and prominent figure in the postwar revival of printmaking, was in Canberra on Thursday to open a new exhibition of Lichtenstein's prints at the National Gallery of Australia.
He said Lichtenstein would have embraced the fact that Pop Remix was pitched as a groovy, youth-oriented show, as well as a serious art exhibition.
''Roy was not averse to any trend that was going on, or any fashion that was going on - he pretty much stayed to his own thinking about what he was doing, how he wanted that to be received,'' he said. ''But he was also very aware of society. He was a very social animal besides being a very private person. I think he would have embraced it.''
The show is made up of more than 100 works dating from the 1950s through to the 1990s, all taken from the gallery's collection of about 300 works, the most important such collection outside America.
Gallery director Ron Radford said the show, which has returned to Canberra after touring three venues in Victoria, Queensland and the Northern Territory, had proved surprisingly popular. More than 21,000 have seen the exhibition so far, an indication that the artist's works continue to enthral successive generations.
''It's different works as time goes on that impress different generations,'' he said.
''I think it's an enduring thing when an artist gets better and better in time, and it hasn't happened with all the American artists of that period, I can tell you. Some of them are looking like not major international artists but just good American artists. But Lichtenstein is one in the world.''
Mr Tyler, who worked with Lichtenstein, said the artist would be comfortable with being described as the ''master of appropriation''.
''I think Roy felt the universe was fair game, from merchandising to masterpiece paintings to anything,'' he said.
''If you could use the subject matter, if you could take from the subject matter, he felt that it was OK … it didn't disturb him in the least that some people thought that he appropriated too frequently or took too many liberties.''
He said that at any rate, one look at the art itself would put paid to the notion that Lichtenstein was little more than an imitator.
''I think when you look at the art, you can't come to that conclusion at all, because Roy's hand is definitely there,'' he said.
''You can go into New York fashion shows and say to yourself, would a Roy Lichtenstein nude be acceptable right now in this environment? And you'd probably say yes. It's timeless art, it's living on beautifully, and I think all good art does that.''
He said Lichtenstein, unlike his contemporary Andy Warhol, was a quiet man who did not worry too much about his image. ''He liked publicity - it didn't bother him. You have to be pretty assured of yourself as an artist to believe that and think that, and it also just portrays who he was,'' Mr Tyler said.
Roy Lichtenstein: Pop Remix opens July 20 and runs until January 27. Entry is free.