Roy Lichtenstein’s name is synonymous with Pop art. His works stand today as icons of America during the 1960s and 1970s, with his characteristic comic-strip, benday dot imagery having entered the collective subconscious as an instantly recognisable graphic aesthetic. In stylistic contrast, this group of eight woodcuts, one lithograph and one etching produced between 1949 and 1956 represents the artist’s earliest experiments in print; they are intriguing precursors to the artist’s subsequent development.
Initially, one is surprised to find the rough and expressively carved woodcuts, finely hand-drawn lithograph and abstracted etching to be the work of the king of Pop. Perhaps the only hint of Lichtenstein’s imminent obsession with American popular culture can be detected in the lithograph Ten dollar bill 1956. In this proto-Pop print, we see Lichtenstein first taking an everyday object, symbolic of the growing American consumer culture, as his subject matter.
A master of appropriation, Lichtenstein not only borrowed images and stylistic devices from art history but also revisited and reinterpreted his own works. In the prints Indian with pony 1953, Two Indians with bird 1953 and the Picasso-inspired A Cherokee brave 1952, Lichtenstein combines his interest in American Indian subject matter with the woodcut technique. He returned to this combination of subject and medium in 1980, gleaning inspiration for the production of his next series of woodcuts, the American Indian theme series, six semi-Surrealist works also in the National Gallery’s collection.
These ten works were generously donated by Kenneth Tyler and Marabeth Cohen-Tyler and are the earliest examples of Lichtenstein’s work in the national art collection. A selection of these works will form a distinct grouping in the forthcoming Lichtenstein exhibition scheduled for 2012.
Curator, International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books
in artonview, issue 67, spring 2011