Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was an artist engaged in American Pop Art and was born in New York to an upper-middle class Jewish family. During the 1960s, alongside Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist, Lichtenstein became a prominent figurehead in this new art movement and his work served to define the premise of Pop Art using parody. Taking inspiration from magazine comic strips, Lichtenstein created very precise compositions to document while they parodied, usually in a very tongue-in-cheek format. Strongly influenced by comic books and advertising styles of the time, he thought of Pop Art as an “industrial” way of painting rather than exclusively “American”.
After his comic-inspired pop prints of the early 1960s, Roy Lichtenstein prints focused on landscapes. “The Landscapes” was his first solo print portfolio, and was published in collaboration with the Leo Castelli Gallery by Rosa Esman’s Original Editions. Interested in highly popular but very clichéd themes, Lichtenstein transformed the time-honoured motif of the landscape into a photo collage style of Pop Art. Notably, he was engaged in creating imaginary views instead of the appropriated illustrations typical of printed material. Lichtenstein himself was also very involved in the production of the series, creating all the initial collages and drawings, fashioning screen-print stencils by hand, supervising the cutting of the plastic Rowlux sheets and shooting the photographs.
Incorporating his pop aesthetic with materials never used before, Lichtenstein asked viewers to think again about the landscape painting concepts that were used up until this point, such as Conceptualism. This series served to challenge art standards in the production of traditional landscapes using commercial printing techniques such as dots and flat colours, just like in mass media. Essentially, Lichtenstein’s landscape work is reinvented in such a way that it is reduced down to its pictorial and compositional elements.
In the artist’s 1965 work “Sunrise”, Lichtenstein uses thick, bold outlines together with groups of Benday dots to create the sky, oceans, mountains and horizons. In his further work “Landscape 4”, he again uses a black outline to depict a rising sun, whilst in “Landscape 9” he employs exaggerated curves and stylised lines to suggest water and light. The regularised stripes, dotted fields and segmented flat areas of colour set the texture and tone of the printed material, with the limited colour schemes alluding to the pervasive nature of commercial mass media.
“The Landscapes” portfolio works to effectively display Lichtenstein’s experimental methods of choosing his subject matter and working with his materials. It pays homage to his earlier landscapes that incorporated plastic, painting, metal and Plexiglas to build an industrial aesthetic, as well as spatial, textural interplays.
Since the 1950s Roy Lichtenstein prints have been on display in New York and other cities across the world, notably at Castelli Graphics, Leo Castelli’s gallery and also Ileana Sonnabend’s gallery in Paris. In 2010, his 1964 cartoon-style artwork “Ohhh…Alright…” owned previously by the famous actor Steve Martin (and laterly by Steve Wynn), was sold at a record-breaking US$42.6m (£26.7m) when it was purchased from Christie’s in New York.