Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Property from the Collection of Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Two Red and Yellow Apples

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Two Red and Yellow Apples
signed and dated '© rf Lichtenstein '81' (on the reverse)
oil and Magna on canvas
24 x 28 in. (60.9 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted in 1981.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Anon. sale; Sotheby's, New York, 9 May 1984, lot 8
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, From Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art: Johns, Rauschenberg and the Aesthetic of Indifference, July-October 2008.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

This work will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

After his iconic paintings of comic-strip heroines, still lifes were probably the most important and extensive subject matter that occupied Roy Lichtenstein throughout his career. From some of his earliest paintings such as Black Flowers, 1961, to his Brushstroke Still Life series from 1997, Lichtenstein sought to re-invent one of the noblest of artistic genres for the Pop age. Two Red and Yellow Apples takes as its subject one of those most familiar tropes immortalized by countless artists including Caravaggio, Cranach the Elder, Cézanne, Gaugin, Courbet, Magritte, rendering it in a dramatically new and energetic way. The Pop artist’s rendering of bold, graphic gestures and fluid brushstrokes defines what lies at the heart of his work—a thorough and systematic examination of how we look at objects, and how we then represent them in a visual medium.

Rendered in a series of dramatic signs, Lichtenstein’s fruit appears out of a flurry of stylized brushstrokes. Solid black lines denote the outline of the fruit, while colorful passages of red and yellow make up their shiny surface. Large and imposing, these apples dominate the composition, pushing out the additional elements that, historically speaking at least, were often included in still life paintings. This this lack of extraneous material thereby focusing attention on the purely formal aspects of the fruit. Concentrating attention on optical nature of light and shadow, Lichtenstein’s dramatic style encourages us to decipher what we are seeing for ourselves, rather than presenting us with a straightforward, realistic depiction of the appearance of the fruit. The apples are placed against a flat plane made up of red, yellow and blue sweeps of color, disrupting the conventional notion of perspective that normally accompanies a painting such as this. Finally, an area of black cross-hatching that occupies the lower left quadrant—and most of the lower edge—continues Lichtenstein’s interest in the nature of printing and the mechanical representation that he explored in the comic book paintings that launched his career.

Despite the apparent simplicity of his Pop aesthetic, Lichtenstein was deeply interested in the physical optics of how we look at objects. As part of his studies at Ohio State University he was taught to examine the visual properties of his chosen subject matter as much as their outward physical appearance. In his influential book Drawing by Seeing, Hoyt L. Sherman, one of Lichtenstein’s professors, encouraged people to develop a new way of drawing. “Students must develop an ability to see familiar objects in terms of visual qualities,” he said, “and they must develop this ability to the degree that old associations with such objects will have only a secondary or a submerged role during the seeing-and-drawing act” (H. L. Sherman, quoted by B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1987, p. 29). For Lichtenstein, these “familiar objects” initially became the cheap comic books that were sold by their millions in grocery stores and newsstands across the country. Their mass-produced aesthetic reduced the world to bold, flat and often black-and-white or primary colored renditions; gone were the delicate subtleties of traditional chiaroscuro, replaced instead by bold hatching and Ben-day dots.

In addition to his interest in the way we learn to look at objects, Lichtenstein also had a detailed interest in—and understanding of—art history, and after comic book heroines, he went on to explore the aesthetic language of German Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. In Two Red and Yellow Apples, he utilizes the vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism in his rendering of the gestural brushstrokes and drips that make up the image—all qualities celebrated in the work of the Masters of the genre such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. Brushwork was also important in the work of Paul Cézanne and his loosely applied blocks of color assembled to produce atmospheric landscapes and still lifes. “For an Impressionist, to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensation,” the French artist is reported to have said; Lichtenstein, like Cézanne, was not merely interested in reproducing the appearance of an object verbatim, rather he was interested in a deeper, more meaningful connection. In addition to Post-Impressionists who often painted still lifes featuring apples, the fruit has a much longer association with artists thanks to its central role in the biblical story of Adam by Eve. Representing the act of original sin, in additional to more ancient symbolism of being an allegory for knowledge and youth, the apple has been a longstanding object of fascination for generations of artists as an object echoing with both spiritual and temporal meaning.

But in rendering the apples in a series of gestural brushstrokes as he does here, Lichtenstein celebrates the idea of the artist and the artistic process as much as he does the subject matter. Using incredible draftsmanship and skill, he strategically manipulates, reorganizes and reframes his subjects, and engages in a complex dialogue with his forefathers, allowing the painting to become more than the sum of its parts. It is no short order to re-invent one of the oldest genres of painting, the still life. Lichtenstein manages to utilize his trademark pictorial vocabulary to redefine what on the surface seems apparently naïve, but is actually highly sophisticated and results in a compelling reexamination of the nature of representation.

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