Roy Lichtenstein’s iconic exploration of the brushstroke motif comprises several unique editions and portfolios. Brushstroke Contest of 1989 is an extraordinary investigation of painterly expression. The print showcases intersecting pastel brushstrokes spelling out the Chinese characters of the word ‘contest’. This image was initially designed for use on a poster for the 24th Olympiad.
Brushstroke Contest has as its main objective to distill brushstrokes into striking visual signs. To achieve this, Lichtenstein exploits the inherently abstract qualities of his own pictorial style. The energetic compositional elements are in this print set against a graphic black and white backdrop. Akin to Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke Faces, the explosive sweeps here imitate the mannerism of abstract expressionist paintings.
That being said, the visual vocabulary employed in Brushstroke Contest is quintessentially pop. Lichtenstein’s mechanised cartoon brushstrokes counteract artistic legacies and the historical significance of emotive brushwork. As such, the sweeps in Brushstroke Contest appear as gestures of control rather than spontaneity.
Confronting fundamental beliefs about the artistic process, the print adapts and transforms the essence of painting. Lichtenstein’s work zeroes in on the very act of touching the tip of a paintbrush against a canvas. The artist ultimately offers a sophisticated commentary on artistic authenticity and subconscious mark-making.