Haystack Roy Lichtenstein
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Roy Lichtenstein’s brightly coloured, graphic renditions of American consumer culture made him integral to the development of Pop Art. He began incorporating elements of contemporary art theory and popular print media into his artistic appropriations at an early stage of his career.
Lichtenstein repeatedly referenced various traditions of art history, zeroing in on the work of canonised artists. He boldly addressed hierarchical notions pinning high art against low art, critiquing the assumed opposition between original thought and mechanical reproduction.
The artist was infamous for abstracting iconic images and transforming them into new symbols with the tools of his own visual vocabulary. He replicated the Ben Day dot system and added block colouring and stripes to the mix, thereby creating his signature comic book style.
Mimicking industrial methods and employing various printing processes allowed Lichtenstein to appropriate images derived from both fine art and commercial design sources. Consequently, Lichtenstein’s work realised an exceptional level of accessibility, allowing the public to better engage with the realms of contemporary art.
Examining the art historical context of his source material in depth, Lichtenstein executed two Pop Art renditions inspired by impressionist imagery in the year of 1969; his Haystack series and his Cathedral series. Highlighting the act of seeing as well as the act of creating, both series explored different permutations of a single iconic theme.
Accordingly, their main objective was to review the significance assigned to repetition and seriality throughout art history. Both series in question paraphrased French impressionist Claude Monet's artworks from the early 1900s.
His series of naturalistic paintings, executed on the brink of modernisation and industrialisation, are considered to be seminal for the development of early modern art. Depicting a stack of harvest at various hours of the day, Monet’s 1891 haystack variations in particular were praised by critics for authentically illustrating the dynamic relationship between colour and light.
Lichtenstein’s Haystacks replace Impressionism’s spontaneous, small and loosely applied brushstrokes with the exactness of the artist’s Ben Day dots. The series integrates colourful painterly gestures with the readymade quality of screen prints. The dense patterns adorning the backdrop of each print create an optical illusion that is heavily dependent on colour. Lichtenstein hand-painted the dots, although the systematic placement of these elements gives the false impression of them being machine-made.
Seeking to parallel the objective of the original impressionist paintings, the colour scheme of the Haystacks go from yellow morning depictions to darkly pigmented nighttime portraits of the hayfield. Looking at the Haystacks feels as though you’re regarding the obscured image through an impermeable screen. Up close, the colour scheme appears primary, refined and demarcated. Observed from afar, the vivid colours blend together, presenting the beholder with secondary colour compositions.
Ultimately, Lichtenstein conveys a distinctly modernist perspective in his Haystacks, emphasising unmodulated picture planes and rich surface effects. The schematic forms and bright hues characterising the prints in the Haystack series seek to question the authenticity attributed to their source material. Lichtenstein creates canvases upon which fine and commercial art sources coexist, redefining the historical references his creations are derived from.
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