If You Like Roy Lichtenstein, You'll Love a True Story About Joseph Beuys

Many modern artists have drawn inspiration from comic books to tell surprising stories and incredible adventures

By Google Arts & Culture

Live Ammo (Ha! Ha! Ha!) (1962) by Roy LichensteinChrysler Museum of Art

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein exploded onto the art scene of the 1960s with his large-scale hand-painted pastiches of classic comic strips. His pioneering ironic images defined Pop Art in terms of parody.

Lichtenstein's bright and bold works were admired by, and hung alongside works of, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and James Rosenquist among others. He was heavily inspired by his colleague Allan Kaprow at Rutgers University.

Live Ammo (Ha! Ha! Ha!) is a typical pop art painting. An homage to so-called silver-age comic books that celebrated the heroes of the recent Second World War. In this scene, a soaring fighter plane climbs vertically into the sky, its pilot laughing maniacally.

The highly charged, emotional subject matter is at odds with Lichtenstein’s impersonal techniques, drawn from comic books of the era: clear lines, bold colors, and red 'Ben-Day' dots, complete with a speech bubble that dominates the composition.

In addition to the parodic take on contemporary painting, Lichtenstein is also making a subtle statement on the escalating violence and absurdity of the US' involvement in the Vietnam War.

A True Story About Joseph Beuys No. 5 (Red Pilot Shot His Plane. The Plane Falls and Breaks) (1998) by Kęstutis GrigaliūnasMO Museum / MO muziejus

Over thirty years after Lichtenstein, the Lithuanian artist Kęstutis Grigaliūnas would turn to Pop Art-inspired imagery for his work A True Story About Joseph Beuys, a short comic series that describes the life of the infamous German artist.

Joseph Beuys was born in Germany 1921, and had fought as a gunner in the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. After the war he reinvented himself as a conceptual and performance artist, and became notorious for his unusual works and even more unusual self-mythology.

Beuys claimed that his life had been changed after being shot down over the USSR. He said that he was found, freezing and injured, by Crimean Tartars, who smeared him with lard, wrapped him in felt and, having saved his life, allowed him to be spiritually reborn.

How much of Beuys' story is true is debated. But Beuys' later works drew on what he described as 'shamanic' practices, and incorporated felt, fat, animals, gold, and honey as symbols of this rebirth.

Grigaliūnas' series tells Beuy's story in comic style, including all the absurd and playful parts as if it were a cartoon. The mismatch between Beuys' serious conceptual art and intellectual status and Grigaliūnas' comic style only adds to the humour of this work.

Grigaliūnas' series doesn't shy away from political comments. Other panels from the series note that Beuys had volunteered to fight for the Nazis, and that after the war he managed to make a lot of money and important friends. But Grigaliūnas seems more occupied with the myth.

Grigaliūnas interprets a story that was already a mythology, and recalls an artistic style that was long out of fashion. This layering of truth and fiction and aesthetics was being explored by many artists of the 1990s, and this tendency persists to this day.

A True Story About Joseph Beuys No. 3 (This Is a Fascist German Military Pilot Joseph Beuys) (1998) by Kęstutis GrigaliūnasMO Museum / MO muziejus

If you enjoyed learning about Roy Lichtenstein and Kęstutis Grigaliūnas, then why not take a look at some of their other works, including Lichtenstein's Bull III and Grigaliūnas' Vilnius Cathedral Beast.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps