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James L Hussey: The Director Questioning Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Art of Appropriation’
Episode 21916th May 2023 • Not Real Art • Crewest Studio
00:00:00 00:56:46

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Was the iconic Roy Lichtenstein a great artist, a thief, or both? This is the question posed by Whaam! Blam! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation, a documentary film directed and produced by today’s podcast guest, James L Hussey.

“When I set out to make [the film], I viewed it as a very straightforward, intellectual, technical film about appropriation,” says James, who released the film in November 2022. “When is it OK? When is it not OK? What surprised me and surprised audiences is that [it turned] into a human-interest story.” On today’s podcast episode, host and NOT REAL ART founder Scott “Sourdough” Power sits down with James to discuss Whaam! Blam!, Lichtenstein’s legacy, and the thin line between appropriation and plagiarism.

A key figure in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s, Lichtenstein borrowed directly from comic books, advertisements, and historical art sources to create bold, graphic paintings. His recognizable works are housed in the world’s finest galleries and can fetch upwards of $150 million a piece—but some see him as nothing more than a plagiarist. “[Whaam! Blam! raises] this question about appropriation and whether what Lichtenstein did was right or wrong,” James tells Scott. “Like so many things, it’s not always black and white. There’s a lot of gray.” 

Today, James shares stories from the last living comic artists Lichtenstein copied from, and why they’re unhappy about it: “[The art world] very casually refers to the original comic art as ‘low art,’ while almost an exact copy of it, blown up and hanging in the Tate Modern, is [considered] ‘high art,’” James says, explaining that some of these comics toiled in obscurity, below the poverty line. Tune in for our thought-provoking conversation with James L Hussey  on plagiarism, appropriation, and giving artists credit where credit is due.

Watch the trailer for Whaam! Blam! Roy Lichtenstein and the Art of Appropriation here or rent the documentary via Amazon.

In Today’s Episode

James L Hussey discusses…

  • His personal (and eclectic) comic book and art collection
  • What led him from politics to documentary filmmaking
  • The evolution of Whaam! Blam! from intellectual documentary to human interest story
  • Why he sees working on Whaam! Blam! as “a great privilege”
  • How appropriation differs from plagiarism, and the often fine line between the two
  • Whether or not Lichtenstein was a product of the ‘60s, when attribution wasn’t common
  • The relationship between the commercialism of art and its legitimacy
  • How the art world distinguishes between low and high art
  • What most people don’t understand about intellectual property rights
  • The documentary project he wants to tackle next

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