Roy Lichtenstein first drew inspiration for his artistic creations from Native American themes in the 1950s. Picking up where he left off 20 years prior, he developed these initial historical sources in new surrealist ways in his American Indian Theme series of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Therefore, Lichtenstein’s American Indian Theme IIIbears resemblance to both his Surrealist inspired art of the same decade, as well as his pre-pop oeuvre of the 1950s.
American Indian Theme III applies the shrubs and cacti ever so characteristic of the American desert as its base. Stacked on top of each other in the foreground of the work are unmistakable human features. Resembling a totem in its construction is an illustration of a wide open eye, framed by an arched eyebrow, resting on a set of lips flipped to the side.
The flattened and schematised forms are enforced through the use of earthy dark colours in this work. Ragged bright yellow shapes and lively light blue stripes adorn the background, thrusting the gazing eye towards the beholder. It hovers in the middle, unblinking and interrogative, while the mouth below sits forcibly sealed.
The depiction is situated in the midst of a scenery typically associated with Native American heritage. Yet, the main subject is reduced to essential human components, stripped of all indicators of cultural belonging. Lichtenstein ultimately shifts the power relations between subject and beholder in American Indian Theme III.