Seven Apple Woodcuts Roy Lichtenstein
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Roy Lichtenstein played a substantial role in establishing printmaking as a significant art form in the 1960s. At the beginning of his career, the artist exclusively utilised elements of popular culture. Eventually, art history also proved a useful source of inspiration for him.
Lichtenstein adopted various modes of representation, ambitiously challenging the divide between highbrow and lowbrow art. Disrupting artistic conventions from the inside out, his appropriated topics and styles allowed the artist to resonate with a wider audience.
Lichtenstein’s main artistic purpose was to grant easy access to the realms of contemporary art. He therefore developed a notorious comic book aesthetic. The artist’s signature style consisted of block colours, geometric shapes, Ben Day dots and stripes.
These characteristics are entirely absent from his Seven Apple Woodcuts from 1983. In fact, the series demonstrates a period of unusual stylistic fusion in the artist’s creative output.
The Seven Apple Woodcuts firstly examine the long-standing tradition of still life painting, as immortalised by renaissance and impressionist artists. In many respects, the woodcuts in this series appear as abstracted versions of Lichtenstein’s previous Six Still Lifes of 1974.
The Seven Apple prints employ off-white backdrops, devoid of any patterns. The sequence offers primary colours as well as pastel tones, arranged into energetic sweeps and elementary shapes.
The expressive brushstrokes utilised by Lichtenstein in this series resemble the painterly gestures exercised by abstract expressionists. As such, the Seven Apple prints constitute the conceptual predecessors of the artist’s Brushstroke Faces of 1989.
The tenets of Abstract Expressionism consider brushstrokes to be direct communicators of the subconscious. Mocking this belief, Lichtenstein’s Seven Apple Woodcuts transform the brushstrokes from vehicles of expression into the subject matter of his art.
In each woodcut, the artist stages enlarged and intersecting sweeps of colour as his main composition. Lichtenstein demonstrates how minor changes to the alignment and disposition of the brushstrokes can have a major influence on the overall impression of the work. Tying the sequence together is the overriding theme; still life with fruit.
Lichtenstein keenly embraces a sense of technical finesse, with which he engages in a simulated process of painting. As a result, the observer is quick to forget that the Seven Apple prints were in fact executed as woodcuts.
The artist has evidently conducted a thorough examination into the history of still lifes, prior to embarking on his Seven Apple Woodcuts. He is particularly interested in the manner in which modern masters have made this specific style of painting their own.
Following in their footsteps, Lichtenstein imbues his Seven Apple prints with an underlying formal comedy. Reducing his still lifes to minimalist depictions of fruit, he coats them in unexpected pigments and bends them out of shape. While some of the prints exhibit three-dimensional forms, other editions in the series are flattened, distorted and absurd looking.
In the end, the Seven Apple Woodcuts of 1983 actively exploit the inherent abstract qualities of Lichtenstein’s own pictorial language. The series proves that the audience will recognise the subject matter regardless of its level of figuration. With this sequence, Lichtenstein reflects on the enduring influence of a principal art historical genre.
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