AN ARTIST'S #TBT

 

Roy Lichtenstein, Stepping Out, 1978 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

As much as Instagram would like to claim credit for the #TBT, throwback images were not invented by social media. Take, for example, this Roy Lichtenstein painting from 1978. In the latter half of his career, Lichtenstein become fascinated with the project of combining his own style with that of artists who preceded him. Though the palette and composition are distinctly Pop Art, the figures in this painting are a clear #TBT to two of Lichtenstein's biggest influences from the earlier wave of Modernism: Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. 

Within the second half of the 20th century, few artists are better known or more familiar than Roy Lichtenstein.The Benday dots and primary colors of Lichtenstein's distinctive "comic book" style, which the artist developed in the early 1960's, are icons of American Pop Art and symbols of the post-modern era. Stepping Out, which the artist painted in 1978, is representative of Lichtenstein's traditional style in many ways, including his restriction to a primary color palette, the use of thick black outlines, and the absence of shading other than that of the Benday dots.

Other elements of this work are very un-Lichtenstein, however. Take, for example, the figure of the man on the right: the flattened visage and contrasting patterns are a far cry from the classic comic book characters of Lichtenstein's earlier work. The figure on the left, drastically reduced from a full female form, is an even farther cry from Lichtenstein's glamorous Drowning Girl (1963). Why?

In fact, the irregular elements of Stepping Out are Lichtenstein's tribute to two of his important artistic influences: the iconic Modernists Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger. The male figure is a slightly altered, mirror-image of a figure in Three Musicians (1944), a famous Léger painting in the MoMA. The blue flower in his lapel, which matches the blue of his striped tie and high-collared shirt, is borrowed from yet another Léger work. Though the female figure is not an exact copy of a Picasso painting, her dramatic reduction to a single, rotated eye, a mouth, and blonde locks of hair recalls the Surrealist and Cubist work of Picasso in the 1930's. In a single painting, Lichtenstein has summoned the visual phantoms of two of his artistic heroes while still expressing his own, distinctive style.

Somehow, despite the multitude of artists, time periods, and styles in this painting, Stepping Out still works. Lichtenstein's simple palette of primary colors unites the contrasting styles, while echoed shapes, such as the curves of the woman's cascading hair and the man's lapel, summon a common visual language. The red Benday dots, scattered across both faces, draw the man and the woman together; in a graceful #TBT, Lichtenstein uses his own trademark to create a powerful union between the figures of Picasso and Léger. 

 

 

Kelsey Leonard