Roy Lichtenstein: Mitchell - Innes and Nash. (New York)

Article excerpt

The hard thing about Roy Lichtenstein's paintings of brushstrokes isn't getting the joke (they are often extremely funny) but thinking of them as paintings.

The forty-eight drawings, sculptures, and paintings in this show of work from the late '50s to the mid-'90s weren't lined up chronologically, but I went to the early canvases first-partly out of curiosity, as they are seldom shown. Lichtenstein had at one rime wanted these abstractions to be destroyed, presumably to emphasize his post-'61 Pop production. But the 1959 paintings, made during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, point as much to Lichtenstein's consistent distance from the brushstroke as to his immature style. They look like something dreamed up by a child of Grace Hartigan and Gerhard Richter: passages broadly smeared with rags, a few sharp lines brushed in, none of it entirely cohering. Here Lichtenstein seems to be investigating the possible ways to make a mark, eliding intuitive experimentation and conceptual commentary.

He soon followed these works with the Pop images of what he called his "constructed" or "cartoon" brushstroke--marks treated as subject matter--and there were some wonderful examples here. But the most interesting paintings, which bring together the expressive and the mechanical, come in the '80s. Composition, 1982, for instance, has a Kline-like structure of strong value contrast punctuated by a few constructed brushstrokes in blue, yellow, and black. In the early '60s, Lichtenstein spoke of the shift in his style as a conversion. By the '80s, perhaps it had occurred to him that he didn't have to decide between gesture and deliberation, just as the once life-or-death urgency of choosing between abstraction and representation now seems quaint.

Several of the large paintings from the '80s are accompanied by sketches painted on acetate, which Lichtenstein would project onto canvas, as in the Magna Study for Two Apples, 1981. …


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