Whaam! is one of my favourite paintings – actually, it is probably my favourite painting. I have several Lichtenstein prints hanging in my house including a small Whaam! print.
Roy Lichtenstein painted it in 1963. Lichtenstein based it on a comic strip published in 1962 and as a result, there was some criticism of the work. It was originally in the Tate (now Tate Britain) since its purchase in 1966 and then it was moved to the Tate Modern in 2006. The painting is made up of two canvas panels.
Two weeks ago I saw the painting twice. I went on a Sunday afternoon and for the first time, I got close to the painting and saw some imperfections that I had not noticed before. I went back during the week to check my eyesight and take some pictures. I work close enough to the Tate that a lunchtime visit is comfortable. Bear in mind that I have seen this painting many times in the Tate, the Tate Modern and last year in the Tate Liverpool, and yet these imperfections had escaped me.
In the left panel, there is a speech bubble with “I pressed the fire control… and ahead of me rockets blazed through the sky…”. In the bottom right-hand corner, the black outline is smudged very slightly (1).
There are other artefacts in this panel. If you look closely at the aeroplane, there are some smudges on the edge of the red and blue dotting (2). It almost looks as if the artist left the pencil on the canvas. I doubt he intended that.
Similarly, on the star of the aeroplane, it looks as if the edge is smudged (3). There are several artefacts like this in the panel. Maybe these were intended to make the edge of the shape more prominent. In the second panel, there is some overspill of the dotting in the explosion (4).
Recently, the painting was cleaned and I wondered if the process had damaged the painting. Actually, they went to great efforts to check the process before starting and had to do minimal retouching afterwards. There is a film about the process.
But of course, do the imperfections matter? It is still my favourite painting and when it is viewed at the right distance, these small things are not really visible at all. In fact, it has taken me years to notice them. The imperfections show the humanity of the artist and maybe they were intentional.
If you put this into context with your daily work, particularly where it is creative or artistic, you will no doubt find imperfections in it. You may well be aware of but that others will simply not notice. Does it really matter? Of course, it really depends on what the result needs to do. A bridge carrying heavy traffic needs to built correctly, but a missing statue on it won’t matter. We need to focus on the important 80% and not the unimportant 20%.
(Added 15/2 – Seth Godin posted on a related theme today.)
(The pictures were taken by me – the main “Whaam!” picture was taken at Tate Liverpool in 2018 and is cropped. The other pictures were taken in the Tate Modern.)