On a Dare from His Son, Roy Lichtenstein Unwittingly Invented Pop Art
Property of an Important American Collector
This work will be included in a forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of the artist’s work, currently in preparation by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
From the Catalogue:
A product of a half-century long love affair with classical Chinese art, Roy Lichtenstein’s Landscapes in Chinese Style is one of the famed Pop-Art pioneer’s most nuanced, analytical and breathtaking series of productions. Despite his long-standing interest in the subject matter, the inspiration for its genesis came from the Degas Landscapes exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, held in 1994. There Lichtenstein became fascinated with the idea that amorphous, monochromatic shapes could actually be representational, despite their non-figurative nature. However it was the palpable atmosphere of these monotypes which drew Lichtenstein to make links to Chinese landscape painting – ultimately acting as the catalyst for the creation of the present lot.
In Landscape with Poet, the artist reminds us of his wholly unique ability to engage and form aesthetic conversations with the work of other artists and cultures – reappropriating them within his own lexicon of dots, black contours and monochromatic zones. Within the Landscapes in Chinese Style series, this image of Landscape with Poet is one of the earliest known examples of vertical paintings that the artist had drafted. It became realized as a series of studies that include a graphite and coloured pencil version (1994), the present lot (1995), as well as a lithograph and screenprint version of an edition of 60 (1996). Differing from the other two versions, this lot is a unique, fully realized, complete artwork, composed of a multi-layered collage of tape, painted and printed paper on board where the artist’s synthetic process becomes clear upon closer inspection. Such use of painted pieces of paper echoes the techniques and materials used by Henri Mattise, in the creation of his famed ‘cut-outs’. Lichtenstein then evokes comparisons to classical Chinese masters, such as Mu Qi and Guo Xi through an intricate matrix of graduated “Benday dots” – stenciled meticulously in order to give the illusion of the image being printed, with the intention of rendering the work mechanical. The juxtaposition of the hand-crafted quality of this present lot, with Lichtenstein’s intention of creating a mechanical-looking outcome of the work is evident here. Diverging and converging in alternate areas, Lichtenstein creates a sensuous perception of depth as well as a serene atmosphere of a transcendental realm, employing extraordinary gentleness largely uncommon to his oeuvre. Although the genre of landscapes was one of the first that the artist interpreted within his archetypal comic-book style of production, Chinese landscape painting allowed Lichtenstein to approach previously-explored notions of compositional principles and visual concepts from a broadened perspective, and therefore acting as a vehicle for creative reinvention during what were to be the last years of the artist’s life.
Having attended lectures on Eastern Art history during his time at university, Lichtenstein would have been exposed to the landscapes of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), whose social and spiritual ideals permeate throughout the work. Small figures were traditionally included in landscapes not merely as an aesthetic device, but as a means of reminding the viewer of the insignificant transience of human life in the face of the universe, as well as stressing the importance of the interrelationships between man and nature. Lichtenstein mirrors such sentiment, using the vastness of nature to force us to confront our very own existence. By placing a small figure against an expansive backdrop, Lichtenstein also provides spatial orientation, as well as toying with our perceptions of scale and proportions in an innovative way, making us consider each aspect – its details, its intricacies – before interpreting the painting as a singular whole.
The true genius of this work lies in Lichtenstein’s ability to fuse classical with contemporary, in a way that is wholly archetypal of the artist himself. From employing similar medium orientation – in order to mimic a hanging scroll – to creating voluminous depths and atmospheres within the paintings themselves, he adopts the traditional compositional and visual elements of Chinese art while imbuing the works with his own trademark techniques and motifs. Indeed in this lot, Lichtenstein uses subtle humour, as he did throughout his career, to examine and shed light on the absurdity of Western generalisations and stereotypes. The incorporation of elements such as the rice picker hat and the crooked bonsai tree are the highlights of such, as they make no distinction between Chinese and Japanese cultures - instead using them as common signifiers of Asian culture. Even the title of the series itself makes a sarcastic accusation that there is a singular, universal style of Chinese painting. Through such visual and contextual clichés, Lichtenstein makes us question how we perceive and often cluster other cultures without devoting sufficient time to understanding them.
—Courtesy of Phillips
Signature: signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein 95' on the reverse
Zurich, Galerie Lawrence Rubin, Roy Lichtenstein Collagen 1994, 5 June - 15 July 1995, no.8 (exhibited and illustrated)
Roy Lichtenstein Landscape in the Chinese Style, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, Hong Kong, 2011, no. 8, p. 118 (illustrated)
Galerie Lawrence Rubin, Zurich
Private Collection, New York
Lawrence Rubin-Greenberg Van Doren Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000
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
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