Water Lilies Roy Lichtenstein
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Like his contemporaries, pop pioneer Roy Lichtenstein made a decisive break with the artistic traditions of the past. He rejected any distinction between high art and popular culture, taking inspiration from the industrially produced visual imagery of 1960s advertising. Throughout his prolific career, Lichtenstein devised innovative ways to replicate the appearance of commercial printing.
The artist soon developed his own unique iconography, which led him to become one of the most recognisable artists of the 20th century. The artist initially used consumer adverts and the comic books of his youth as his source material. His dialogue with artistic legacies and the act of painting also formed an important focal point throughout his career.
The historical style of nature painting, and therefore also the cliché infused properties of art, constituted an enduring interest for Lichtenstein. He explored comparable themes in his extensive Landscapes, Moonscapes and Seascapes.
With his celebrated Water Lilies, Lichtenstein showcases a masterfully calculated and artificial take on naturalistic imagery. The series comprises six screen prints on stainless steel created in 1992. Using his unique syntax of stylistic motifs, Lichtenstein presents a reinterpretation of Claude Monet’s impressionist “Nymphéas” of the early 1900s.
These printed water lily studies of shimmering and shifting light parallel the artist’s Reflections and Mirrors series of the late 1980s. Moreover, the Water Lilies play with historical ideas of creating and seeing, similar to the artist’s Haystacks and Cathedrals of the early 1970s.
Lichtenstein distills his Water Lilies to the utmost basic and essential pictorial elements. Rather than focusing on the bigger picture, the artist invests in the poignant details he plucks from his chosen panoramas. Accordingly, the scenic nature portraits in this series stylise organic forms through exaggerated contours and solid bands of saturated colour. Lichtenstein communicates subtly nuanced areas of light and shadow using his advanced graphic language coupled with overlays and stencils.
Water Lilies is a stunning example of the artist’s ground-breaking approach to material and form. The prints present pop rendition of tree bark, lily pads, cascading willows and a reflective pond. Within these pieces, the artist creates various imitations of tone and texture using thick outlines, diagonal swirls, and swathes of halftone Ben Day dots. The dense designs suggest vegetation and wood grain as well as a rippled and refracted surface of water.
The sequence contains brilliant superimpositions of pigments, as the fictitious nature scenes evidently aspire to achieve optical illusions, as well as an unified imagery. The artist here harnesses the universal appeal that painterly motifs hold in the human psyche. The series honours the stylistic precedents of the genre by recreating the atmospheric effects that characterise it.
Lichtenstein designed the frame for each of his Water Lilies. This is a clever conceptual and sculptural trick that emphasises the artwork as an object. When creating his Water Lilies, the artist was also inspired by the dashboards of 1920s and 1930s cars.
The series aims to simultaneously update art's historic legacies as it employs an entirely contemporary visual lexicon. Lichtenstein encourages viewers to consider just how conditioned creative conception is. He ultimately prompts the public to question art’s time-binding properties. This important body of work demonstrates some of the key themes that would come to define Lichtenstein’s practice. Water Lilies demonstrates the artist’s intellectual dialogue with art history and the concept of image-making.
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