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Spy The Unsung Psychedelic Pop-Art Landscapes Of Roy Lichtenstein

A new exhibition chronicles the iconic artist’s lesser known fascination with sea and sky.

Roy Lichtenstein was once derided as the “worst artist in America,” but time has proven him to be synonymous with 1960s Pop Art and cemented him in the annals of art history. After all, good art typically challenges the status quo and sparks debate. The New York–based practitioner took low-brow subject matter—like comic books and advertising—and elevated them by into high art by pumping up the campy, dramatic elements on monumental canvases. While his cartoon-inspired pieces are best known, Lichtenstein also applied his sensibilities to one of the most traditional motifs: landscapes. And now, thanks to East Hamptons museum Guild Hall and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, they’re the subject of a new exhibition.

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“We wanted people take a second look at Lichtenstein’s work,” says Christina Strassfield, chief curator at Guild Hall. “It’s not just comic books, it’s just not a thought bubble. He has so many different subjects in his work and used so many materials. The exhibition shows that.”

Sea Shore, 1964© Roy Lichtenstein Foundation

Roy Lichtenstein: Between Sea And Sky features 31 pieces spanning from 1960s to the 1990s. The artist renders familiar scenes, like sunrises and the ocean, using unconventional techniques and materials. Case in point: the Ben-Day dots that he used in much of his work appear in some pieces, but he riffs on their composition by using industrial steel cutouts in lieu of paint. He creates collages from felt; combines lithography, woodcutting, and screen printing on a single piece of paper; and experiments with stainless steel and wood as a base for prints.

“He purposely wanted his land and seascapes to appear ‘vulgar,’ which led him to experiment with other types of industrial materials,” writes Clare Bell, an exhibition support manager at the Lichtenstein foundation, in the catalog. Lichtenstein deployed Rowlux—a reflective polycarbonate material composed of microscopic spherical lenses that create 3-D patterns—in 120 of his landscape collages. Most commonly found on drums and trophies–and also on Madonna’s Ray of Light CD!–he described the material and its optical effects as “a sort of ready-made nature.”

McKeever, via Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

While many Rowlux applications veer into garish territory, the material mimics the look of calm ocean water remarkably well—an attribute Lichtenstein used to bring some of his landscapes to life. Contemporary artists and designers have been obsessed with iridescence and optical illusions lately—perhaps Lichtenstein helped pave the way?

If you’re in the NYC area, you can view Roy Lichtenstein: Between Sea And Sky at Guild Hall until October 12, 2015.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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