Cathedral Roy Lichtenstein
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Roy Lichtenstein (1923 – 1997) is one of the most eminent founders and innovators of Pop Art. His creations are housed in many of the world’s prestigious art museums.
Lichtenstein is primarily known for skilfully launching comic book style and mechanically reproduced artworks into the world of fine art. He reconsiders artistic genres by presenting wry social commentary and satirical accounts of art history on his canvases. Moreover, he also demonstrates how the images of art are codified for public consumption through advertising and printing. The artist offers a complex vision of modern art’s tendency to borrow and alter works, styles and techniques of the past.
Lichtenstein’s Cathedral series of 1969 was inspired by photos depicting impressionist Claude Monet’s 1894 oil paintings of the historic cathedral in Rouen. Monet painted at the site of the cathedral, in the Normandy region of France, at various points of the day, over the course of two years. His main purpose was to capture the transient movement of light against the building’s facade. His repetition of the same theme demonstrates a quintessentially painterly approach. The evocative brushwork employed in his series of oil paintings reaffirms the magnificence of the Rouen Cathedral.
Therein lies the main difference between the cathedral pictures of Monet and Lichtenstein. Monet explored the interchangeability and ephemerality of one motif. Meanwhile, Lichtenstein’s commercially influenced style in his Cathedral series of 1969 investigates mass-media systems and reproduction techniques.
Yet, for both artists, the subject is less important than bringing the observer’s attention to the very act of seeing. A visual narrative is constructed here by both Monet and Lichtenstein, aided by the bold application of pigments, which unites the visual strategies of these chronologically and stylistically dissimilar artists.
Although Lichtenstein did not paint live, his use of vivid colouring in the Cathedral series reinvests the overexposed image of the monument with renewed relevance. Lichtenstein exhibits his own manufactured Monet’s, using yellow and white to allude to daylight and blue and black to mark the arrival of the night. He is consciously reacting to Monet’s impressionism by creating a corresponding round-the-clock portrayal of the historic monument, considered through the lense of various colours.The act of reproduction creates the view, as Lichtenstein refocuses attention on painting, using Monet’s cathedrals as art historical footnotes.
Appropriately, Monet's impressionist brushwork is an obvious predecessor to Lichtenstein's hallmark Ben Day dots. They are the main protagonists of Lichtenstein’s Cathedral series. His mechanised appropriation of the subject matter delves into the nature of repetition and seriality with the help of these dots, commonly used in comic books.The artist’s use of this particular printing process can be compared to pointillism, wherein distinct dots of colour are applied to form an image.
Lichtenstein’s dots are positioned in a variety of ways, applied sparingly in certain prints, overlapping slightly in others and on occasion even overcrowding the surface of the work. Conducting a sketch before painting, Lichtenstein projected his initial composition onto his canvases to trace. His prints disperse into dots, similar to how Monet’s paintings dissolve into brushstrokes. Lichtenstein’s Cathedral series has the same visual quality and eligibility as its historical source material, but is a highly mechanised structure; a true expression of the 20th century.
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