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What the Brushstroke Meant to Roy Lichtenstein

  • Archival image of Roy Lichtenstein working in his Southampton studio
  • Roy Lichtenstein The Loaded Brush Installation view
  • Roy Lichtenstein The Loaded Brush Installation view
August 4, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Although the spirit of the time changed much and so have the art currents, during the 1980s, one Pop artist managed to revitalize his former glory, and it was no other than Roy Lichtenstein. Namely, the pioneering proponent of the movement which thoroughly shook the traditional understanding of art in the 1960s, sought out a new approach to the series started back in the old days.

Although Lichtenstein certainly was a critically acclaimed artist, he yearned to remain relevant during the 1980s. The artist decided to get back to his celebrated Brushstroke series and present them in a new and fresh visual language by reinterpreting the techniques and palette of the Pop Art style.

The current exhibition titled The Loaded Brush at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg is a thorough survey focused on this significant period of Roy Lichtenstein’s career. The curator Jack Cowart decided to put rarely seen works, including major figurative and abstract paintings, sculptures, collages and drawings (most of them on loan from the Ludwig Collection), in a new kind of a dialog.

Roy Lichtenstein - The Sower
Roy Lichtenstein – The Sower (Study), 1984. Colored pencil, graphite pencil on paper, 18,7 x 26,4 cm (7,36 x 10,39 in). Image 9,4 x 13 cm (3,7 x 5,12 in). © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Bildrecht Wien, 2019. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg

The Development of Brushstroke Series

Roy Lichtenstein conceived some of the first Brushstroke paintings in 1965–66, and it was his interpretation of the gestural style typical for Abstract Expressionism which was the dominating post-war phenomenon. The works from this series not only show the artist’s great craftsmanship but the conceptual rendering as well; Lichtenstein used the gestural strokes of Expressionism and transferred them through a Pop Art filter by flattening the brushstroke-form and presenting it in bold, vibrant colors with thick black outlines.

By producing several free-standing, three-dimensional brushstroke pieces during the 1980s, Lichtenstein moved away from the techniques used previously in his painting; they became further extended through a number of iconic landscape paintings (the finest example is River scene made in 1987) which plunge even deeper into the realm of abstraction.

Left Roy Lichtenstein - Endless Drip Right Roy Lichtenstein - Brushstroke
Left: Roy Lichtenstein – Endless Drip, 1995. Painted and fabricated aluminum, 361,3 x 34,3 x 11,4 cm (142,25 x 13,5 x 4,5 in). Ed. of 3 / Right: Roy Lichtenstein – Brushstroke, 1981. Painted and patinated bronze, 79,7 x 34,9 x 16,5 cm (31,38 x 13,74 x 6,5 in). © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Bildrecht Wien, 2019. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg

The Installment

The exhibition gathers both stenciled brushstrokes and freely applied paint on canvas Lichtenstein made throughout the mentioned period. Interestingly so, some of the works are directly referring to his predecessors such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Willem de Kooning.

The paper works on display show the elaboration of the following painting process so they can be treated either as direct preparatory studies or independent explorations of the painted stroke.

On view will be a selection of Roy Lichtenstein’s 1980s sculptures (a total of eight pieces) made to function as a sort of parody of the Expressionist gestural style. Namely, these objects are, so to speak, torn off the canvas and aimed to play around with the medium’s cannons concerning mass and volume; they are embodiments of the artist’s continual experimentation with composition, spatiality, and perception.

The highlight of the exhibition will be Artemis and Acteon made by Lichtenstein in 1987. It is one of his most daring expressive works inspired by Titian’s masterful interpretation of the Greek myth produced in 1556–59. This particular work conveys the classical, the modern, and the contemporary painterly practices, and is an exceptional and a slightly humorous example of Lichtenstein’s articulation of art history.

Roy Lichtenstein - River Scene
Roy Lichtenstein – River Scene, 1987. Oil, acrylic on canvas, 198,1 x 304,8 cm (78 x 120 in). © The Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Bildrecht Wien, 2019. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg

Roy Lichtenstein at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

It becomes clear that the Brushstroke series reflect Lichtenstein’s great effort to remain up-to-date and in sync with latest tendencies of the time while keeping his signature approach rooted in Pop art. By continuing the experimentation started in the mid-1960s and by renewing it, Lichtenstein practically reinvented himself, although such an agenda has to be perceived in regards to the shifting trends of the late 1970s in America caused by the growth of the art market and the return to painting phenomenon.

The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalog including and an essay written by Siegfried Gohr, director of the Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle in Cologne, who curated the celebrated Lichtenstein retrospective in 1982.

Roy Lichtenstein: The Loaded Brush will be on display at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Salzburg until 28 September 2019.

Featured images: Archival image of Roy Lichtenstein working in his Southampton studio with works featured in the exhibition, 1987. Photographed by Bob Adelman. Paintings from left to right: River Scene, 1987; Artemis and Acteon, 1987; Left sculpture: Brushstroke Head I, 1987 © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Bildrecht Wien, 2019; Installation view, Roy Lichtenstein, The Loaded Brush, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein / Bildrecht Wien, 2019. Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London • Paris • Salzburg. Photo: Ulrich Ghezzi.