Contemporary Art

IN FOCUS: Roy Lichtenstein from The Collection of Douglas S. Cramer

By Sotheby's

A pioneer of Pop Art, artist Roy Lichtenstein needs little introduction. His iconic comic book, Ben-Day dot lined aesthetic, has become synonymous with the genre, which first emerged in the 1950s and flourished throughout the following decade. Embracing popular culture and mass media, Lichtenstein, along with contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, rebelliously rejected the notion that fine art must be dependent upon the pillars of inaccessibility and traditionalism. Emerging out of Abstract Expressionism, which largely explored painterliness and psychological introspection, Pop Art valued mass media and universalism instead.

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The Cover of Architectural Digest in December 2016, featuring the Miami home of Douglas S. Cramer and the present work Roy Lichtenstein Two Paintings: Craig... Photo: Björn Wallander / Architectural Digest. Art © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Cinematic in their dramatism and rich in their aesthetics, it is no wonder that legendary producer Douglas S. Cramer prominently collected Lichtenstein's works. Cramer extended his passion for this art to his professional practice, featuring, for example, Pop Art throughout his Batman television series. Like clips from a moving picture, Lichtenstein's paintings communicate scenes from a larger story - scenes that, however dramatic- are ultimately meant to mirror those from everyday life. The Douglas S. Cramer collection features a wide array of works by Roy Lichtenstein, each offering a distinct look into the artist's practice and a particular moment in American culture.

Lichtenstein's Two Paintings: Craig... is a stunningly rare encapsulation of his role in shaping twentieth-century art. Uniquely layered, the painting features Lichtenstein's signature comic book style and merges his Brushstroke and Interior series. Referencing his 1964 painting Craig..., Lichtenstein here revisits his artistic past while exercising his artistic present - that is, as a creator and a commentator. The artist's signature blonde-haired, rouge-lipped protagonist notably is the last of the unabstracted and uninterrupted Lichtenstein blondes. Reflecting upon the artistic shift that had underscored his rise to becoming a key figure in American art, in this work, Lichtenstein presents pop art and abstraction side by side. The subject of Two Paintings: Craig... is thus revealed to be art history itself. Small House features another classic Lichtenstein archetype. Composed of thick black lines and wide planes of primary color, this rendering of a ranch-style home toys with viewers' sense of perspective and therefore of reality. Deceptively simple, the work employs an illusionistic perspective while drawing inspiration from Lichtenstein's collection of printed source material. Uniting the realms of painting and sculpture, Small House slyly disrupts the conventions and boundaries of artistic medium.

The Miami home of Douglas S. Cramer photographed for Architectural Digest in December 2016. Photo: Björn Wallander / Architectural Digest. Art ©
Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Art © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation, courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.


Works like Imperfect Painting, Double Architectural Motif (diptych), and Plus and Minus V demonstrate Lichtenstein's mastery of patterned planes and illustrated depth (or the lack thereof) with little form. Lifted from advertisements and various ephemera, these methods of portraying the world have transformed from being commonplace imagery to being synonymous with the artist's very name. In screen-prints such as Sweet Dreams Baby!, text and image are meticulously intertwined to emulate comic strips, thereby testing the limits of fine art. Most prominently known for his two-dimensional images but no stranger to sculpture, Lichtenstein often applied his illusionistic prowess to the three-dimensional space, as well. Modern Sculpture With Horse Motif is one such example; testing the limits of line and shape, the sculpture achieves the image of a horse through a strip of aluminum and a segment of marble. What is afforded by examining several works by Lichtenstein in tandem with one another is a look into the artist's resolute process. Such is perhaps best revealed by his various sketches, which showcase later known masterworks in their infancy. Examining these initial drafts makes apparent just how much creativity, planning, and precision would go into creating works so seemingly detached and manufactured. Lichtenstein's artwork, in this way, embodies not only through content but also through the process the often very contradictory nature of life itself.

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