Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Figure in Landscape

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Figure in Landscape
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein 77' (on the reverse)
oil and Magna on canvas
46 x 40 in. (116.8 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1977.
Blum Helman Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
M. Amaya, "Architectural Digest Visits: Roy Lichtenstein," Architectural Digest, July/August 1978, p. 85 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Executed in 1977, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

"All my art is in some way about other art, even if the other art is cartoons" (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne, 2000, frontispiece).

In Figure in Landscape, Roy Lichtenstein reframes the famous motifs of Surrealism according to the Pop idiom. Using his signature cool and detached aesthetic, Lichtenstein renders Tanguy-like imagery with graphic outlines and chromatic clarity. Despite drawing on the movement's distinctive motifs, the artist avoids referencing a specific work: according to the artist, his Surrealist pictures "were of no particular Surrealist artist, just Surrealism in generalI use a mixture of improbable elements to give the feeling of Surrealist painting" (R. Lichtenstein quoted in G. Mercurio, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, exh. cat., La Triennale di Milano, 2010, p. 235).

Whereas Surrealist pictures are often characterized by spontaneity and automatist techniques, Lichtenstein's premeditated composition is meticulously rendered. Figure in Landscape retains the artist's simple, delineated forms that he developed in the 1960s, which distilled the visual shorthand of commercial printing. In this 1977 work, Lichtenstein applies pure hues of pigment in large, flat areas, outlining each discrete form with black contours. Lichtenstein sets the composition on an open plane, where a Tanguy-inspired anthropomorphic shape casts an irregular shadow against the yellow ground; above it, the sky is demarcated with blue and white diagonal stripes. Lichtenstein also includes his signature thought bubble and seagulls, represented by two black double-curves--motifs that derive from comic strips. By juxtaposing mass-media motifs with those of the Surrealists, Lichtenstein reframes the movement's archetypal forms to demonstrate the two-way relationship between commercial and fine art.

Lichtenstein's appropriation extends beyond mere formal imitation: here, the motifs are contextualized within a narrative similar to that in his dream girl paintings. Figure in Landscape's biomorphic, perforated shape was meant as a response to stereotypically gendered forms in Surrealist art. Lichtenstein says, "I used a flowing line to make a torso with holes through it like a slice through a Henry Moore sculpture" (R. Lichtenstein quoted in G. Mercurio, Ibid, p. 235). By exaggerating its irregular, amorphous shape, Lichtenstein parodies the movement's description of female attributes, depicted through flowing, curvilinear lines. Above the titular figure, Lichtenstein adds the thought bubble of his comic strips but cuts the text off by the frame. By alluding to the figure's thoughts but negating further information or insight, Lichtenstein pokes fun at the lack of transparency in Surrealist pictures despite their preoccupation with exploring the subconscious.

In Figure in Landscape, Lichtenstein investigates the clash between popular culture and high art, collapsing them into one, catch-all composition. The artist believed that art history owed as much to commercial artists as it did to canonical artists; he believed both formats shape a culture's way of viewing and perceiving the world. Curator John Cowart wrote of the series, "Gone is the European old-master patina of historical Surrealism. What are presented instead are high-color, pared-down bilateral or compositionally distinct puzzles. They are studies in opposites and not just formal ones as Lichtenstein remains obsessed with constructing fresh new equivalences of meaning composition symbol and technique and changing our perceptual habits" (J. Cowart, Roy Lichtenstein 1970-1980, exh. cat., St. Louis Art Museum, 1981, p. 115). Rather than simply attacking Surrealist pictures, Lichtenstein demystifies and reinvigorates the movement by placing it within the more accessible arena of his own Pop pictures.

Lichtenstein's referential work was created in response to the Whitney Museum's 1977 exhibition, "Art about Art," organized to investigate the widespread parody and appropriation of history by contemporary artists. While Lichtenstein's work was extensively featured, the artist sought to take his appropriation of past precedents even further. In Figure in Landscape, the artist seeks to emphasize the consistency and seriousness of artists ongoing meditations on images, whether from Pop culture or from museum culture. According to curator Charles Stuckey, "The Pop artist's late 1970s compositions are his most complex meditations on art about art about art, to make the mind's eye blink with Surreal insights" (C. Stuckey, "Lichtenstein and Surrealism," Roy Lichtenstein: Conversations with Surrealism, exh. cat., Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, 2005, n.p.).

Figure in Landscape is also self-referential: in his formative years as an artist, Lichtenstein responded to the work of Mir and Paul Klee in the late 1940s and 1950s. At the time, Surrealism was acclaimed as the matrix style for contemporary abstract art, and Lichtenstein was drawn to its profound of its avant-garde representatives like Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Jean Arp and Marcel Duchamp. Dalí and Duchamp used commercial techniques in the 1940s, which would become the basis for Pop techniques. In fact, Duchamp incorporated the Ben-Day dot-Lichtenstein's most famous visual motif-as early as 1945 for the catalogue cover of an exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery.

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