In 1965-66, Lichtenstein created a series of Brushstroke paintings which were commonly thought to be a comment on Abstract Expressionism. Diane Waldman has written that "In satirizing Abstract Expressionism by focusing on its characteristic brushstroke, Lichtenstein unlinked process (the action or event) and end-product (the record of that action or event) and thus diminished the ineffable mystery of artistic creation" (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1993, p. 151). In this series, Lichtenstein provides the brushstroke with a new identity, elevating it from its previous status in his comic book paintings as a signifier of forms. "The Brushstroke paintings contain the clear outline, process colors, and Benday-dot screen of the comic strip, butthey eschew narrative in favor of reducing a subject (in this case, painting) to its most basic symbol (the brushstroke)" (ibid, p. 156).
During the 1980s Lichtenstein revisited the Brushstroke series. The artist first continued working in the contrived brushstroke images of the earlier series, but then began exploring looser forms and areas of freely brushed paint in his Two Paintings and Paintings series, 1982-84, including the current work. Painting: Light Yellow Brushstrokes, like all the works in the two series, juxtaposes two contrasting styles from the artist's oeuvre, in this case the angular graphic colors and forms of the German Expressionist series and the new interpretation of Brushstroke.
Indeed, Painting: Light Yellow Brushstrokes, offers a crisp composition and subtle play between the two styles. The yellow brushstroke of the title commands attention in the center foreground, surrounded by other contrived brushstrokes such as itself as well as broad swaths of "real" or free-form gestural strokes of paint. The brushstrokes are contained on three sides by a silver frame that identifies the work as a painting within a painting, both sign and signifier. Two vertical bands lie to the left of the silver frame, one band of bold diagonal black and white stripes and a solid band of vibrant blue. The stripes, which echo the hatching in German Expressionist woodcuts, and the blue band serve as an organizing device to denote the space around the painting while simultaneously flattening the picture plane. Lichtenstein's Light Yellow Brushstrokes is not only an homage to the inherent potential of one stroke of the artist's hand, but a probing question about two and three dimensional space, and the reality of what the viewer sees.