Brush with Brilliance

Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke across medium

Celebrated for his Pop-inflected irony and meta-interrogation of media forms and formats, Roy Lichtenstein cultivated a long and fruitful relationship with the primary symbol of painting: the brush and brushstroke. Brushstroke III, created in tandem with Tyler Graphics in 1986, is one of Lichtenstein’s early forays into translating his series of Brushstrokes paintings into sculpture and bringing his signature playfulness and precision into three dimensions.  

“[Lichtenstein was] a painter who loved painting, but also wanted to morph it into every other medium possible,” notes Jack Cowart, Executive Director of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Lichtenstein first began to explore the brushstroke as subject in 1965, using an image drawn from the comic Strange Suspense Stories to inform his now-iconic version of the motif. The series of paintings that emerged were a direct comment on the all-pervasive Abstract Expressionist movement, in which Lichtenstein isolated, interrogated, and transformed the primary gesture of the medium.

From 'The Painting' in the October 1964 'Strange Suspense Stories #72', Charlton Comics

Lichtenstein first began to experiment with monumentalizing his brushstroke in the early 1980s. He completed several commissions of free-standing brushstrokes made from painted aluminum, towering between 20 and 30 feet tall. Brushstroke III emerged amidst this new chapter, a distinct moment in Lichtenstein’s pendulum swing between painting and sculpture and back again. At just over five feet in height and made to be mounted on the wall, arranged in such a way as to alternately appear flat and dimensional, Brushstroke III in many respects synthesizes Lichtenstein’s test of the boundaries of medium, standing as a crowning example of the artist’s technical mastery and hunger to experiment.

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein is one of the originators of the Pop Art movement, famed for paintings that take kitsch and transform it into culture. Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923. Growing up, he took art classes at the Art Student League where he created realist paintings. Lichtenstein continued his study of art at Ohio State University but, with the advent of World War II, he enlisted in the army in 1943. Lichtenstein returned to Ohio State after the war to finish his master’s degree in studio art. While Lichtenstein was teaching art at Rutgers University, he became close with fellow artist Allan Kaprow, who introduced him to Claes Oldenburg. It was during the 1960s that Lichtenstein began experimenting with what would become his signature style of taking images from comic books and newspapers and reproducing them on a large scale, calling attention to the flatness of the imagery with his Ben-Day technique of painting dots. In 1962, Lichtenstein got his first break with a one-man show at the Leo Castelli Gallery, which sold out before it opened.

Later in his career, Lichtenstein began to cleverly re-appropriate the work of fellow modern masters like Warhol, Picasso, and Mondrian, either by overtly miming the imagery or by placing these works of art into his Interiors series of paintings. The public alternatively lauded and reviled Lichtenstein for his quiet commitment to painting popular culture, and was often met with mixed feeling; in 1964 Life magazine published an article about him entitled “Is He the Worst Artist in America?” Regardless, Lichtenstein’s place in the canon of modern art is firmly established, and his works are found in major museums across the world. Lichtenstein passed away in 1997.

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