- Roy Lichtenstein
- Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave
- signed and dated 67 on the reverse
- oil and magna on canvas
- 56 by 48 in. 142.2 by 121.9 cm.
Bert Stern, New York
Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago
Private Collection, New York
Sotheby's, New York, November 13, 2003, lot 194
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale
In 1966, Roy Lichtenstein moved from his much-celebrated imagery of the early 1960s, comic-style heroines and expressive brushstrokes, and began to make compositions that resist easy classification. In the summer of 1966, while still working on his Brushstrokes series, Lichtenstein designed a poster for New York City's Lincoln Center, taking as his subject the architecture and design of the 1920s and 1930s. This initiated a group of works that parodied the style of Art Deco, which Lichtenstein ironically described as "Cubism for the Home." Using his characteristic Ben Day dots and geometric shapes and lines, Lichtenstein rendered incongruous, challenging images out of familiar architectural structures, patterns borrowed from Art Deco and other subtly evocative, often sequential, motifs. Like the Landscapes paintings that preceded them, the artist's Modern works are among the relatively rare pieces in his oeuvre without an anchoring reference to a specific artist or object. They are inventions based on one of his favored notions: impure style. Lichtenstein humorously stylizes an already-stylized style.
Lichtenstein has noted that the 1930s were “kind of blindly geometric.” The angular forms of the period and the naïveté of the style appealed to him: “I think they believed that simplicity was art. They believed very much in the rational and logical. To me there is something humorous in being that logical and rational about a work of art –using a diagonal that goes from one corner of the picture to another and using arcs that have their midpoint at the edge of the picture. All these are very logical things: dividing pictures into halves or thirds, or repeating images three times or five times. They used these formulas because they thought that if they did it would be art. Actually, it can be. There are two things here: the naïve quality of believing that logic would make art, and the possibility that it could” (Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1993, p. 169).
In his series of Modern paintings and sculptures, Lichtenstein isolated and re-created decorative motifs of the era such as brass ornamentation and geometric wallpaper. While attempting to summon the style of the period, Lichtenstein's foremost aims were as always form and composition. The Modern series strikes an extraordinary balance between verticals and diagonals, curves and straight edges, dynamic and static forms. Executed in 1967, the present lot, a collage-like canvas was created at the height of Lichtenstein's Modern painting series in which he focused on the futuristic imagery and hard-edged, decorative styling of the interwar years.
With its swirling montage of Art Deco motifs and its bright Pop colors, Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave represents Roy Lichtenstein's celebratory tribute to the modern age. The present work reflects Lichtenstein's interest in modernist ideologies and in this case, the imagery that defined material and visual culture during the 1920s and 1930s. Yet it does not draw on the high-minded idealism of classic Modernism, but rather the decorative and commercial corruption of its style by architects and industrial manufacturers. Here the artist brings together various easily identifiable emblems of Art Deco design in its fractured composition.
In Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave, the curved shapes both divide and unify the canvas. Gradations of royal blue Ben Day dots flank either side of the canvas composed of bold primary colors, black and white. The work contains minimal symmetry and parallel divisions of space yet it is compositionally harmonious and balanced. Lichtenstein constructed the compositions of these paintings out of a basic set of forms - circle, semicircle, rectangle, square and triangle - arranged in the manner of classic Art Deco design (in sets of threes of fours, for example). These subdivisions and repetitions activate each composition, creating a hub of energy contained only by the parameters of the canvas. Lines of speed or vectors appear to converge or diverge among the densely packed forms. The energy generated by these strategies is boosted by the tension between jagged or irregular silhouettes and self-contained geometric shapes.
Lichtenstein parodied “modernist” movements using geometric forms, industrial imagery and his own dotted technique. Based on the once popular 1930s ‘modern,’ a corrupt and ornamental version of Cubism, Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave evokes the taste and style of that period. As all great artists are, Lichtenstein was a head of his time. In true avant-garde fashion he understood the powerful influence of mass media and its visual language. Modern Painting with Yellow Interweave is a prescient contemplation on the power of pop culture and the role it would play in defining art for generations to come.