Lichtenstein Ruminates on Abstraction in His Comic-Book Look at Van Doesburg

Article excerpt

American artist Roy Lichtenstein called his style "mock insensitivity." He based it overtly on the cheap printing processes and oversimplified artwork of comic books. But his intention was still to make "art." This involved a kind of serious humor, and never more so than when he translated other artists' "typical" work into his own cartoonish vision.

Picasso, Cezanne, and Gilbert Stuart, were all "Lichtensteined." So were the "modernity" of Art Deco and the impassioned brushstrokes of Abstract Expressionism. Likewise the abstract, geometrical verticals, horizontals, and restricted palette of the Dutch "De Stijl" ("the style") artists Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg.

It is Van Doesburg who is parodied in this triptych by Lichtenstein. On view at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D,C., until July 24, they are part of a group of 13 drawings recently donated to the gallery by Lichtenstein's family in memory of art collector Jane Meyerhoff.

Around 1917, Van Doesburg painted a series of four drawings and paintings showing the stages of development from a realistic rendering of a cow to an abstraction of rectangles. According to the artist's vigorously promoted credo, the final abstraction was meant to arrive at the essence of the subject.

In the process, realistic resemblance was logically removed. A painting might then become completely self-sufficient - an icon constructed solely of the means by which paintings are made. To Van Doesburg, an abstract image involved relationships of color, shape, and form, as well as contrasts and tensions. …