Oriental Still Life with Pearls is from Roy Lichtenstein's lauded series of still life paintings from the early 1970s. An amalgamation of subjects new and old, it reflects Lichtenstein's deep fascination with the art historical canon of still-life. It also portrays the culture of the post-modern era, one which mixes past and present. As in the best of Lichtenstein's work, it both celebrates and ironically critiques what it depicts.
Still life is one of the oldest and most venerable genres. It is an uncanny barometer of an era as it directly reflects the time in which it was made. Oriental Still Life with Pearls does not impart the symbolism of Vanitas or religious imagery as one would expect from still life paintings from centuries past, but instead offers a snapshot of the secular modern world. A plate, pitcher and pearls--symbols of plenty--are joined by the Asian statue, a sign of cultural awareness and societal status. The pearls surround the statue, decadence mingling with virtue, implying the spiritual co-opting and consumer culture that defined the late 20th century.
Lichtenstein's collage combines precision painting and printed paper to create a sleek appearance appropriate for his Pop aesthetic. The objects appear to float on the surface of the work, obstinately refusing to rest on the counter top which should support them. Discussing this flat, hieratic quality, Lichtenstein said, "Even if my work looks like it depicts something, it's essentially a flat two-dimensional image, an object" (R. Lichtenstein quoted in M. Kimmelmann, Portraits, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, New York, 1998).
Graphically dazzling and socially poignant, Oriental Still Life with Pearls demonstrates the great insights of Lichtenstein could coax from his seemingly naive style. Immediately recognized as a master collage, Oriental Still Life with Pearls was formerly in the collection of the seminal contemporary gallerist, Holly Solomon, who acquired it from Lichtenstein's dealer and champion Leo Castelli.