Executed in 1962, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
With its crisp, clean lines and unique blend of figurative and abstract elements, this beautifully rendered drawing by Roy Lichtenstein marks the arrival of the artist's mature style. Before 1962 Lichtenstein drew with delicate simplicity, but in that year he began a highly sophisticated series of works in which he selected a diverse range of source material, introducing a richer variety of techniques to his more and more detailed compositions. The source image for Keds is an advertisement for a popular brand of sneakers that appeared in the Washington Post the previous year. In this drawing Lichtenstein switches the composition of the original advertisement to expose the underside of the shoe, giving a greater degree of prominence to the abstract markings on the underside of the sole. When combined with the elegant contours of the shoe itself, the jagged hatchings become even more pronounced, a juxtaposition that is lost in the original advertisement.
Lichtenstein used a number of different techniques to reproduce the look of mechanical reproduction that he required for Keds. Although as early as 1964 the artist used an opaque projector to beam images of his chosen subject onto a canvas, it seems likely that in the case of Keds he traced the images directly from the original advertisement. Then, with a series of heavily penciled contour lines, Lichtenstein would strengthen the original underdrawing, using a softer and darker graphite pencil to produce the skeletal outlines which would define the body of the shoe. In order to produce his trademark Ben-Day dots, he relied on a technique called frottage. This consisted of placing the paper sheet over a textured surface, then rubbing a graphite pencil across the surface. This procedure produced a series of regular dots, but also allowed traces of the artist's hand to be seen in the shaded areas as subtle changes in pressure during the rubbing process can be detected as Lichtenstein moved his hand across the surface of the work. Lichtenstein employed this particular technique for only a short period during 1962, but it saw him producing some of most exquisite drawings including, The Kiss and Bratatat (Minneapolis Institute of Art).
Lichtenstein's drawings, including the present lot, recently received a major retrospective at New York's Morgan Library and Museum, which revealed anew their quality and significance. The New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, underscores the importance with which these works are now viewed, by stating, "the artist's hand is everywhere, adjusting the density of the dots from faint to dark (sometimes by doubling them up), filling in areas so that even finer lines have a slightly chiseled, insistent roughness, and making useful discoveries...What is perhaps most striking is his determination to have the entire sheet of paper come alive and register as a whole. This electricity unifies nearly all his paintings, edge to edge, with a bracing combination of the familiar and the abstract that still has few equals in modern art" (R. Smith, "Following The Dots Around the City," New York Times, 24 September 2010, p. C33).
In addition to this work on paper, Lichtenstein also produced a painting with an almost identical pair of shoes a year earlier in 1961 (Robert B. Mayer Family Collection, Chicago). This painting had a great effect on Ed Ruscha, who on returning from an extended trip to Europe visited Leo Castelli to show him his work. While visiting the gallery, Ivan Karp showed Ruscha Lichtenstein's Keds painting and the younger artist had what he regarded as an epiphany, realizing that ordinary, everyday objects could become the legitimate subject of high art. This encounter left a tremendous impression on Ruscha and would propel him in a direction that would come to define much of his career.
Keds is an important work which takes its place at the very heart of Roy Lichtenstein's Pop revolution. One of only a select number of drawings from this important period of the artist's development, it provides an excellent opportunity to witness first-hand the technical and compositional skill of an artist who was able to turn a straightforward and utilitarian line drawing into an object of simple beauty and high art. It marks the triumphal culmination of the artist's reductive practice of representing an image in terms of the symbolic language of its formal composition, drawn from the proliferation of advertising and graphic imagery that proliferated during the economic boom of the post-war years. As Isabelle Deveraux, the curator of the recent critically acclaimed retrospective of Lichtenstein's Black-and-White Drawings at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York notes, his finished drawings "represent the most original contribution of Pop Art to the history of drawing" (I. Deveraux, "Baked Potatoes, Hot Dogs and Girls Romances: Roy Lichtenstein's Master Drawings," in Roy Lichtenstein: The Black-and-White Drawings 1961-68, exh. cat., Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 2011, p. 15).