Roy Lichtenstein’s six part Bulls series from 1973 is a study of the correlation between figuration and abstraction. More specifically, it’s an exploration of art forms and printing techniques in transformation. In this series, Lichtenstein draws primarily on Theo van Doesburg’s pencil studies, The Cow (1916-17), and Pablo Picasso’s lithographs, The Bull (1945-46). Both artists abstracted the image of the animal in order to find its truest form.
Following an in-depth investigation of photographs found in 1970s cattle sales catalogues, Lichtenstein renders the image of the bull in line with his art historical predecessors. Contrary to van Doesburg and Picasso however, he calls into question the presumed distinction between realistic and abstract depictions. Basing his prints on preconceived drawings and reworked preparatory collages, he gradually reworks the naturalistic image of the bull into a mere cypher.
Bull IV is graphically slick and applies a combination of screenprint and lithography, with the addition of line cut, a process usually associated with commercial printing. Extracting the simplified forms and primary colours of Bull III, the work obscures the animal’s shape further. The bull’s tail and horns are emphasised through Lichtenstein’s comic book style, while the rest of its body is close to an indecipherable arrangement of colourful geometric shapes.