Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Brushstroke’, 1965, Phillips

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection

This work will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and is included in their online works listing.

From the Catalogue:
At the onset of the 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein and his Pop contemporaries felt that the avant-garde Abstract Expressionist movement had lost its uniquely contemporary voice. As one of the leading Pop artists of the time, Lichtenstein began looking for ways to challenge the discourse surrounding the masterworks of the previous decades. In 1965, Lichtenstein set out on his first, direct reinterpretation of the Abstract Expressionism of artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in his Brushstroke series, all of which featured one or two brushstrokes, rendered with his characteristic Ben-Day dots. It was in this same first year that the present lot was executed. One from an edition of six created in this pivotal year, Brushstroke is the first early enamel brushstroke work to come to the market in almost a decade, and has remained in the same distinguished private collection for three decades.

In its technique, the present lot belongs to a series of enamel works begun in 1964, inspired by the metal subway signs of New York City with which Lichtenstein was fascinated. In choosing this surface, Lichtenstein aligned himself with his Pop contemporaries who sought out mass media imagery and found objects. Yet, in the subject matter of a single brushstroke, the work completely challenges the traditional notions of painting not only in its surface, but also in its pioneering simplification of the symbol of abstract painting. A singular, cartoon-like brushstroke painted in black and white enters the glossy, ceramic surface on which it rests from the left, extending in what is at once static and full of movement.

The depiction of an active brushstroke, arrested in a sea of midnight blue Ben-Day dots, is particularly evident in the glossy surface of the present lot. As Dave Hickey recalled of the first of Lichtenstein’s brushstrokes created in 1965 and exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery that same year, “I noticed that the Ben-Day dots, recruited in the service of an abstract image, lost the blowsy, strident vulgarity they had retained in Lichtenstein’s earlier work. They now declared their historical sources in the pointillism of Seurat… they became elegant, well mannered and deeply amusing” (Dave Hickey in Brushstrokes: Four Decades, exh. cat., de Pury & Luxembourg, Zurich, 2002, p. 8). The glistening nature of the subject in this early enamel example is thus not only elegant and amusing, but art historically significant. Following the action painting techniques of his predecessors, Lichtenstein chose to suggest a sense of active movement in a different way. As Diane Waldman espoused, “He caricatured the activity of the brush and the character of the paint as it brushed onto the canvas…Both the figure and its field, however, were bound into the composition by means of the Ben-Day dot…In enlarging the detail, he made a microscopic form carry all of the weight and significance of the macrocosm from which it was born, painting itself.” (Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993, p. 157)

Extensively exhibited from the year of its inception and into recent years, examples from the present lot have been shown in both solo and group exhibitions around the globe. One of the first of these exhibitions titled Art in the Mirror, a group show featuring works which reflect art and its place in the world both as a subject and a point of departure, began at the Museum of Modern Art, where an example of this work hung sandwiched between works by his contemporary Robert Rauschenberg and predecessor Marcel Duchamp. This placement among these artists only solidifies Lichtenstein’s importance in the continuous redefinition of art, even at a time when the artist’s renowned brushstroke works were just emerging from his studio. In the accompanying pamphlet for this exhibition, we are reminded of the importance of Lichtenstein’s work in the trajectory of art history: “[the] way to approach art is through the eyes of artists; Rauschenberg may clarify the myth of Leonardo, and Lichtenstein the clichés surrounding Picasso, thereby improving our focus on painting of both the past and the present” (G. R. Swenson, Art in the Mirror, exh. pamphlet, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, n.p.)
Courtesy of Phillips

Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, The Other Tradition, January 27 - March 7, 1966 (another example exhibited)
New York, Museum of Modern Art (no. 20a); Mansfield Art; Mansfield Fine Arts Guild; San Francisco State College; Los Angeles, Municipal Art Gallery; Los Angeles Valley College; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts; Oswego, State University College, Art in the Mirror, November 22, 1966 - March 1968 (another example exhibited)
The Stamford Museum, The Eye of the Collector: Contemporary Art, March 23 - May 21, 1978
San Diego, University Gallery, San Diego State University, Selections from the Michael Crichton Collection, April 25 - June 1, 1980, pp. 32-33 (another example exhibited)
Providence, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design; San Diego Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum, FORTISSIMO! Thirty Years from the Richard Brown Baker Collection of Contemporary Art, March 1 - November 10, 1985, no. 86, pp. 82, 140 (another example exhibited and illustrated, p. 82)
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Delaunay to de Kooning, Modern Masters from the Tremaine Collection and the Wadsworth Atheneum, May 5 - September 15, 1991, no. 46 (another example exhibited)
Stanford, Cantor Art Center, Stanford University, Picasso to Thiebaud: Modern and Contemporary Art from the Collections of Stanford University Alumni and Friends, February 18 - June 20, 2004, pp. 72-73, 151 (another example exhibited and illustrated, pp. 73, 151)

Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Julien Levy, New York
Private Collection
Sotheby's, New York, May 4, 1987, lot 66
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

About Roy Lichtenstein

When American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein painted Look Mickey in 1961, it set the tone for his career. This primary-color portrait of the cartoon mouse introduced Lichtenstein’s detached and deadpan style at a time when introspective Abstract Expressionism reigned. Mining material from advertisements, comics, and the everyday, Lichtenstein brought what was then a great taboo—commercial art—into the gallery. He stressed the artificiality of his images by painting them as though they’d come from a commercial press, with the flat, single-color Ben-Day dots of the newspaper meticulously rendered by hand using paint and stencils. Later in his career, Lichtenstein extended his source material to art history, including the work of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso, and experimented with three-dimensional works. Lichtenstein’s use of appropriated imagery has influenced artists such as Richard Prince, Jeff Koons, and Raymond Pettibon.

American, 1923-1997, New York, New York, based in New York and Southampton, New York