Roy Lichtenstein’s Cow Going Abstract from 1974 is a three-part signed screen print exploring the visual process of abstraction. Executed as part of a limited edition of 150, this print succeeds Lichtenstein’s Bulls from one year prior in its precise exploration of art forms.
Over the course of the early to mid-1970s, Roy Lichtenstein simplified the image of Holstein Friesian cattle in two related series of prints. Each print in both series expanded upon the composition of the one that came before. The gradual process of abstraction was notable only when the sequences were regarded in their entirety.
For his bulls, Lichtenstein drew primarily on Pablo Picasso’s lithographic series The Bull (Le Taureau), from 1945-46, and Theo van Doesburg’s pencil studies for The Cow, from 1916-17. Both artists rendered bovines abstract, demonstrating the modernist belief that universal truth could exclusively be revealed through the distillation of forms. Lichtenstein parodies this assumption by calling into question the alleged distinction between realistic and symbolic depictions.
As such, Cow Going Abstract is a three-part portrait of a bull that maps a progressive shift from figuration to abstraction. Aspiring to playfully obscure the animal's naturalistic shape, Lichtenstein renders the subject indecipherable in a colourful arrangement of coded geometric shapes. In the final impression, the bull’s particular anatomic qualities are reduced to purely essential forms. Ultimately, the print exhibits an investigation of the process of simplification, without the implied search for a higher meaning.