Paintings Roy Lichtenstein
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American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein was born 1923 in New York City. His use of stylised advertising language disrupted and revolutionised the art scene of the 1960s. Lichtenstein continued to re-envision the means of modern painting and classical art until his passing in 1997. The artist’s appropriated, enlarged and reframed icons remain influential to this day.
Lichtenstein completed his elaborate eight-part series entitled Paintings in 1984. The sequence is a distinctive example of the artist’s tendency to reconcile contrastive themes and styles. The prints take on juxtaposed fictitious picture frames as their central motif.
Lichtenstein cleverly hones the formal intricacy of his compositions, all the while retaining his signature industrial aesthetic. His Paintings combine traditional painterly gestures with the detached manner of commercial imagery. As such, the artworks often waver between the figurative, the minimalist and the abstract. The main objective of the Paintings series is to challenge the notion of artistic originality.
The history and application of brushstrokes has frequently been dissected over the course of Lichtenstein’s career. In his earliest paintings, the artist fully embraced the emotive qualities of brushwork, as he directly mimicked the spontaneity of Abstract Expressionism. He allowed the paint to expand organically across his canvases, noticing how the expression radically counteracted the mechanical aspects of his own style.
Many of Lichtenstein’s limited series engage the brushstroke motif, see his concurrent Seven Apple Woodcuts and subsequent Brushstroke Faces as examples. These striking editions also provide new slants on classical genres, like still lifes, landscapes and portraits.
Lichtenstein’s Paintings showcase both hand-painted and machine-made patterns, manufactured through collage, woodcut, lithograph and screen print. The artist achieves a seamless balance between his carefully selected pastel tones and vibrant primary colours.
All brushstroke variations depicted in this series are in themselves stylisations. That being said, Lichtenstein’s abstract expressionist imitations appear more instinctive and integrated. Contrastively, the detached cartoon strokes look like they have been cut out and pasted on. The enclosed intersecting pigments are coupled with borrowed cubist, surrealist and comic book illustrations. The resulting structures are superimposed on simulated wood grain, faux-burlap and slick monochrome stripes. Finally, Lichtenstein uses foil to demarcate the silver and gold frames that envelop his compositions.
Lichtenstein’s thematic comparison unfolds between the autographic tendencies of fine art versus the mainstream characteristics of popular culture. His Paintings investigate the act of putting brush against canvas, as well as the schematic mass-production of images. As such, the irony of these prints is twofold.
Additionally, the sequence also features an extra layer of self-parody, evoked by Lichtenstein’s use of partial cropping. The artist denies the completion of his fictitious canvases, endowing the prints with a concrete material presence. The observer is encouraged to delve into the contents of the adjacent imaginary portraits. However, the spatial ambiguities slowly pull the gaze back to the surface, steering attention toward the object quality of the work.
On the one hand, each print acts as a representation of other paintings. Simultaneously, they also demand to be acknowledged as individual artworks in and of themselves. Lichtenstein’s Paintings series of 1984 not only proves his outstanding talent as a print maker, but also demonstrates his innovative conceptual range.
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