Roy Lichtenstein was one of the first American artists to introduce pop art, shifting away from the tragic quality of abstract expressionism, and moving into an era where inspiration was extracted directly from everyday culture. While many recognize him by his iconic cartoon strips and ben-day dot method, a large part of Lichtenstein’s creative career was in his exploration of nature.
Growing up, Lichtenstein spent hours at the American Museum of Natural History, and always held a fascination with how things were created. He drove this passion into watercolor paintings, one of the very first mediums he worked with, that can be seen in his “New Seascape” painting. In university, he continued his fascination with nature by studying botany in addition to his fine arts studies. His deep understanding of the scientific study of plants is reflected in his water lily series. In these artworks he captures the natural essence of a water lily, atop his signature bold stripes and polka dot patterns. This contrast embodies the simplistic take Lichtenstein had on reinterpreting the world around us.
Lichtenstein also derived inspiration from Chinese landscape artworks in some of his landscapes, sharing, “I think (the Chinese landscapes) impress people with having somewhat the same kind of mystery (historical) Chinese paintings have, but in my mind it’s a sort of pseudo-contemplative or mechanical subtlety…I’m not seriously doing a kind of Zen-like salute to the beauty of nature. It’s really supposed to look like a printed version.”
His fresh take on a classical technique in this instance highlights his precise impact as an artist: reinventing the way everyday subject matter is seen and experienced. HIs use of sharp and simplistic lines in a rather soft subject matter reminds viewers that all forms of communication are filtered through codes or languages. Even further, this technique recognizes that high art and popular art are one in the same: both relying on code. He developed his own unique visual language to capture the way he experienced nature, and to provide viewers with a new way of looking at it.
His landscape works provoke a sense of uniformity and harmony, a quality that is unexpected from the everyday subject matter most pop artists focused on. Lichtenstein’s early childhood fascination with the earth’s natural growth continued on throughout his career, remaining to be a prevalent theme, even taking on his unique creative style typically not associated with nature.