Craig F. Starr Gallery is pleased to present Roy Lichtenstein: 1961-63, on view from November 15, 2017 through January 27, 2018. The exhibition focuses on an important subset of Lichtenstein’s work, bringing together a selection of early paintings and drawings, which share commercial subject matter and a predominately black and white palette. The show will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue and will include an essay by renowned art historian and critic Hal Foster.
In the spring of 1961, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) began to utilize the streamlined forms of American post-war consumer culture such as those found in newspaper and magazine advertisements. He furthered the symbolic potential of advertising imagery by amplifying, enhancing, and adjusting its rigid outlines and spare compositions. While the purpose of the commercial image was to efficiently depict, Lichtenstein’s intent was to make it “intensely unified.” A formal unity not for its own sake, but one that served as an active counterpoint to his allegedly mercantile subject matter and style. In so doing, Lichtenstein disrupted traditional distinctions of high and low, and abstract and representational, by demonstrating that his low source imagery could serve the same goals as high painting, and vice versa. Lichtenstein complicated the industrially fabricated appearance of his found source imagery by conflating the handmade with the readymade. His images are comprised of multilayered media and techniques including drawing, copying, projection, tracing, stenciling, masking, scraping, and painting.  Although these works appear to be mechanically reproduced and directly appropriated, they are in fact handmade representations, reworkings, of advertising’s supposedly straightforward representational style.
These works address the surface of things – things not as they appear in reality, that is illusionistically as referents, but rather as readable signs and symbols mediated by both omnipresent commercial media and modernist formal aesthetics. These images deny psychological interiority, personal expression, and metaphor, and focus attention instead on the form, structure, and pictorial authority of the images themselves. Ironically, these images of objects, in a way blank and emptied of content, are now frequently taken as being more real or true than conventional representations. Hovering in meaning between everyday thing, geometric diagram, and work of art, these works prompt the viewer to see the image itself as mere representation, as code. Doubling the “crystalized” symbolization already inherent in his commercial source imagery, Lichtenstein reveals the symbol as symbol, transforming advertising’s immediately legible object into a protean sign, at once pictorially beautiful and critically reflexive.
In addition to his single objects, Lichtenstein depicted several basic actions during this period, mostly indexical and sensory, and which can be read as being self-referential to viewing and art making – pointing, tracing, imprinting/pressing, playing, spreading, erasing/cleaning, etc. These works can
be considered as a distillation of the artist’s/viewer’s practice. Similarly spare in style as the objects, they are bound together by their self-reference and exploration of the index – illustrations of actions that signify being physically connected to thing to which they refer. By mimicking commercialized imagery, these images further posit the viewer as a participating consumer, called to somatic action (to touch, to eat, to wear) by an image that also reveals its representational artifice. There is a simultaneous play of separation and connection, of displacement and direct sensory engagement, of the optical and the physical. Basic needs and wants are transformed into consumer desire, and especially with the introduction of his simulated Benday dots, these images vibrate, taught between containment and release – the surface of things becoming the surface of painting and drawing, and even leading to a strange eroticism of the surface itself.
 Lichtenstein, interview by Gene Swenson, “What is Pop Art?” part 1, Art News, November 1963.
 Hal Foster, “The Art of the Cliché,” Roy Lichtenstein: 1961-63, Craig F. Starr Gallery, New York, p. 3.
 Tyne, Lindsey and Holben Ellis, Margaret, “Drawing Touch,” in Roy Lichtenstein: The Black and White Drawings, 1961-1968, pp. 53-61. (Exh. Cat. Morgan Library & Museum.] Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2010.
 Foster, p. 4.
 Foster, p. 8.
 Bader, Graham,“Drawing Touch,” in Roy Lichtenstein: The Black and White Drawings, 1961-1968, pp. 43-50. [Exh. Cat. Morgan Library & Museum.] Ostfildern, Hatje Cantz, 2010.
 Cooper, Harry, “On the Dot,” in Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, pp 32-33. [Exh. Cat. The Art Institute of Chicago.] The Art Institute of Chicago, 2012.