A Fresh Look at Lichtenstein’s Bold, Cartoonish Prints
Roy Lichtenstein’s legacy is imprinted in the popular American imagination in the form of Ben-Day dots, starkly drawn lines, and primary colors. His oeuvre is expansive and yet remarkably cohesive, with interiors, landscapes, and still life scenes all rendered with the same iconic style. The Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery has selected 25 works—lithographs, woodcuts, screenprints—for a show that celebrates his print work and lasting legacy.
Ben-Day dots are a key part of the printing process—a technique developed in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Day, Jr. and popularized in the years following. Depending on size, color, and frequency of each point in a set, optical illusions can be generated effectively. Lichtenstein often used this technique to clarify forms and delineate planes of space, borrowing imagery from advertisements and comic strips.
In Modern Room (1990), red Ben-Day dots and black diagonal lines converge at striking angles, accentuating a living room that seems soaked in color. As is the case with La Sortie (1990), Yellow Vase, and The Oval Office (1992), Lichtenstein approaches this interior with a spirited but methodical application of technique. He waters down his typical color palette of red, blue, and yellow to let in a light blue wall, a faded pink ceiling, and a smattering of kelly green-colored plants. Subjects such as a portrait of Mao Zedong complicate what may otherwise be viewed as a simple exploration of color and form.
In prints like Thinking Nude (1994), color is stripped away and the viewer’s attention is drawn to the way Ben-Day dots can conform to human shape. Oscillating in size and frequency, Lichtenstein’s dots seem to vibrate, and especially at transition points: between pieces of furniture, at the crux of the figure’s shoulder and elbow crease, and from one side of her face to the other. It’s hard to look at the subject—head bent down, posed as if in a moment of total solitude—and not think of Auguste Rodin’s seminal The Thinker.
Lichtenstein’s appropriated imagery paved the way for contemporary artists like Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Raymond Pettibon. His lasting influence cannot be overstated: he elevated popular culture to the upper echelons of fine art, and set a new precedent for artists that followed, forever changing the landscape of art history.
“Roy Lichtenstein” is on view at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, Nov. 22–Dec. 20, 2014.