Whaam! is a 1963 diptych painting by pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. It follows the comic strip-based themes of some of his previous paintings and is part of a body of war-themed work created between 1962 and 1964. It is one of his two notable large war-themed paintings. It was purchased by the Tate Modern in 1966, after being exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1963, and has remained in their collection since.
Although derived from comics, Licntenstein made numerous alterations to the work creating two panels from one original which is the subject of significant critical commentary. He also altered the relative significance of the various subjects of the work, both graphical and narrative. It is widely regarded as one of his finest and most notable works.
The painting is large in scale, measuring 4.0 x 1.7 m (13 ft 4 in x 5 ft 7 in). It is considered to be among Lichtenstein's war images (another major one is As I Opened Fire) that combine "brilliant color and narrative situation". In 1965, he produced Explosions sculptures that depicted freestanding and relief forms of subjects such as his previous comic-based paintings of "catastrophic release of energy" such as Whaam!.
According to the Lichtenstein Foundation website, Whaam! was part of Lichtenstein's second solo exhibition at Leo Castelli Gallery from September 28—October 24, 1963 that included Drowning Girl, Baseball Manager, In the Car, Conversation, and Torpedo...Los!, and the Tate Gallery purchased it in 1966.
Original comic book panel from All-American Men of War #89, 1962 (DC Comics) One of the earliest known examples of pop art, Whaam! adapted a comic-book panel from a 1962 issue of DC Comics' All-American Men of War. The story was "Star Jockey", from All-American Men of War #89 (Jan.-Feb. 1962), drawn by Irv Novick. The painting depicts a fighter aircraft, the North American P-51 Mustang, firing a rocket into an enemy plane, with a red-and-yellow explosion (in the source comic the aircraft is a North American F-86 Sabre). The cartoon style is heightened by the use of the onomatopoeic lettering "Whaam!" and the yellow-boxed caption with black lettering.
Lichtenstein altered the source so that the exploding plane was more prominent than in the original relative to the dominant conquering plane, making the image more compelling. The prominent exclamation "WHAAM!" is the graphic equivalent of a sound effect. Although the exploding flames are dominant, the pilot and the airplane are the narrative focus.
Although the original source was one panel, Lichtenstein created two panels to reinforce the separation of action and result. The left panel features a prominent plane with a text balloon that is somewhat cast aside. In the panel the angular depiction gives the plane depth. Meanwhile, the right panel shows a plane head-on competing along with the exclamation for prominence among the flames of the explosion. The two are clearly linked. The diptych is depicted with one panel containing the missile launch and the other its explosion, representing temporally distinct events. Lichtenstein once commented on this piece in a July 10, 1967 letter: "I remember being concerned with the idea of doing two almost separate paintings having little hint of compositional connection, and each having slightly separate stylistic character. Of course there is the humorous connection of one panel shooting the other."
Unlike some of Lichtenstein's other works such as Step-on-Can with Leg and Like New the multiple panels are not minor variations of a repetitive image. There is critical analysis of this two discordant panels.
Whaam! presented "...limited, flat colors and hard, precise drawing," which produced "...a hard-edge subject painting that documents while it gently parodies the familiar hero images of modern America." The grand scale and dramatic depiction make Whaam! a naturally historic pop art work. The planned brushstrokes are pop art's retort to Expressionism. Along with As I Opened Fire (the other of his monumental war paintings), this is regarded as the culmination of the dramatic war-comic works of Lichtenstein. Compared with As I Opened Fire, Whaam! is less abstract. Whaam! represented a Lichtenstein's 1963 expansion "into the 'epic' vein". This is an example of Lichtenstein's painstaking detailing of certain physical features of the aircraft's cockpit. A November 1963 Art Magazine review stated that this was one of the "broad and powerful paintings" of the 1963 exhibition at Castelli's Gallery.