In 1991, Allen Ginsberg, the seminal poet of the Beats generation, asked Roy Lichtenstein to create illustrations for La Nouvelle Chute de l'Amérique, a French edition of his book of poetry. For this project, Lichtenstein used cut-outs of printed and hand-painted paper to design ten collages that were then transformed into etchings and acquaints. The only human figure depicted by Lichtenstein in the series is Ginsberg drawn as a Buddha in a lotus pose. The intaglio print Illustration For ‘Hüm-Bum!’ represents one of the outcomes of Lichtenstein’s collaboration with the poet who boldly questioned America’s past and future.
Illustration For ‘Hüm-Bum!’ responds to Ginsberg’s performance poem that he composed over a period of twenty years. The poem reiterates in a feverish manner: ‘Whom bomb? We bomb’d them!’, ‘Whydja bomb? We didn’t wanna bomb!’. As Ginsberg expanded it over the years, Hum Bom can be seen to record the history of the U.S. militarism, especially America’s involvement in the Vietnam war.
Responding to this difficult legacy, Lichtenstein’s print presents a vision of explosions, in which playful shapes and bold colours seem to clash deliberately with the gravity of the topic. The cubism-inspired vision of an attack contrasts with a series of serene landscapes involved in the portfolio.