“What interests me is to paint the kind of anti-sensitivity that impregnates modern civilization. . . . Pop Art looks out into the world. It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.”
Roy Lichtenstein, in Painters on Painting,1971, p. 263

Roy Lichtenstein at the 1983 exhibition Roy Lichtenstein 1970–1980, Fundación Juan March, Madrid.
Drawing for Imperfect Painting, 1986, Private Collection

With its dazzling geometries and lyrical approach to asymmetry, Roy Lichtenstein’s Imperfect Painting combines pure visual spectacle with a sly tongue-in-cheek humor that exemplifies the artist’s unparalleled ability to think—quite literally—outside the box. Set against glossy silver panes and thrumming black-and-white lines, an array of angular, knifelike triangles cascades down the canvas, drawing the eye to and fro with masterful precision. Like all of Lichtenstein’s Imperfect and Perfect paintings, the present work originated from a pencil sketch of a single line that the artist would zigzag and fold over itself multiple times across the page to create a prismatic matrix of polygons. While the Perfects featured geometric arrangements boxed neatly into their rectangular frames, the Imperfects would always purposely “miss” the mark; Lichtenstein would allow his line to jut out past the pre-drawn borders of the composition, transforming the traditionally dreaded notion of human error into a deliberate celebration of the artistic process. A testament to the centrality of draftsmanship to Lichtenstein’s practice, Imperfect Painting ignites a creative tension between the artist’s analog hand and the crispness of Pop art’s signature mass-media aesthetic.

In addition to highlighting his unswerving sensitivity to the symbolic power of pattern and line, the Imperfect series forms one crucial stage of Lichtenstein’s lifelong engagement with the concepts and aesthetics of Western art history. Throughout his career, Lichtenstein deliberately appropriated and transformed everything from Picasso’s portraits to Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, filtering these movements through his iconic visual lexicon of Ben-Day dots and comic-book colors to bring them into the present day and age. Conceived as a response to Frank Stella’s shaped canvases and the sleek, industrial aesthetics of the Neo-Geo movement, the Imperfect paintings represent one of Lichtenstein’s most substantial ventures into the realm of total abstraction.

Installation view of Imperfect Painting in Roy Lichtenstein, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, 1987. Photo courtesy of Castelli Gallery.
“Lichtenstein remains an artist of absorbing contradictions. His inventiveness is rooted in imitation; he transformed the very idea of borrowing into a profoundly generative, conceptual position, one that alters the trajectory of Modernism, and beyond.”
James Rondeau and Sheena Wagstaff, “Introduction,” in Exh. Cat., Art Institute of Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, 2012, p. 20

In the present work, Lichtenstein explores the endless mutability of the drawn and painted form, charting out the new possibilities that unfold when artistic movements and visual motifs come loose from their conceptual origins and become reclaimed in popular culture as symbolic representations of a particular moment in time. With Imperfect Painting, Lichtenstein turns his meta-critical eye toward his own impressive oeuvre; diagonal lines take on a new meaning as they recall the hypnotic painted patterns of the Op Art movement, and Ben-Day dots break free from their printerly origins to become abstracted geometries in their own right. With its unexpected extension beyond the rectangular confines of the canvas, Imperfect Painting expands upon the action-packed scenes and punchy starburst sound effects of Lichtenstein’s monumental comic-book panel paintings from the 1960s, such as Whaam! (1963) and Blam! (1962)—yet the composition’s minimalistic hues and cool angular construction take these innovative impulses in a wholly new direction.