Roy Lichenstein's Interior with Restful Paintings is part of a series of pictures depicting living rooms and bedrooms executed in the early 1990s when the artist was in his late sixties. As one of the last major series produced before the artist's death, these paintings represent a culmination of Lichtenstein's method of appropriating images from popular media.
Seductive commercial images of the modern home interior formed the inspirational basis of the Interior series. While Lichtenstein served as an artist-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in the spring of 1989, he spotted a billboard furniture advertisement that triggered his scavenges into the local Yellow Pages for interior images of rooms.
Lichtenstein focuses on a subject that has long captured the fascination of Pop Artists: the myth of blissful bourgeois domesticity. The seminal work of Pop art, Richard Hamilton's Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, 1956, depicted the living room collaged with the accoutrements of the ideal middle-class lifestyle as it appeared in prevailing media. Claes Oldenburg created an installation interior of oversized furniture sculptures in Bedroom Ensemble, 1963. Like Lichtenstein, Hamilton and Oldenburg use exaggerated and disjointed elements to magnify the artificiality of the idyllic home and to humorously expose the false consumerist notion that the accumulation of material goods engenders happiness.
Unlike Hamilton's collage, Lichtenstein's painting, depicts a pristine environment free of people and advertisements. Carefully planned yet uninhabited, Lichtenstein's interiors can be seen as abstract interpretations of the subject. As in a magazine layout, every design detail is accounted for and each element sits neatly in its place in the ensemble. Despite the orderliness of the room, the space wants for a key ingredient of the domestic scene, the personal human element. Lichtenstein reveals the alienation sometimes experienced in conventional contemporary life and comments on the predictability and uniformity among bourgeois American homes.
By executing the work in an oversized format (which recalls its billboard inspired-origin) and in the standardized sharp graphics of the artist's vocabulary, Lichtenstein makes a powerful impact with Interior with Restful Paintings. "Benday dots and diagonal shading stripes are technical printing devices that in commercial art are meant to go unnoticed. Lichtenstein has blown them up to such a scale that they read not just as information but as interference, as static" (R. Kalina, p. 82). While the bold colors and graphics collide, Lichtenstein unifes the work through the skillful distribution of color and graphics. In particular, he demonstrates this skill in using yellow for the carpet that spreads throughout the composition and as a hue in the "restful paintings" as well as in his employment of Benday dots on the wall, the lampshade and the back of one of the chairs.
Lichtenstein cheekily calls the works of art depicted in the present picture "restful paintings". In this conventional domestic scene, the art is relegated to a part of the calculated decoration, like the throw pillows and the flowers in the vase, and reduced to a mood-inducing pleasantry. In contrast to the banal "restful paintings," Lichtenstein's wry assessment of contemporary culture in the present painting manifests the artist's goal of creating art that reflects a witty and insightful sensibility rather than mere repose.
Fig. 1 Tom Wesselmann, Great American Nude No. 48, 1963, Kaiser Wilhem Museum, Krefeld, Germany
Fig. 2 Henri Matisse, The Red Studio, 1911, The Museum of Modern Art
Fig. 3 Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, 1956, Kunsthalle Tubingen