Lichtenstein’s Landscapes in a Chinese Style at Gagosian

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Landscapes in a Chinese Style” at Gagosian Gallery’s 24th Street branch (exhibiting through April 7th) have more to do with style than they do with Chinese landscapes. Lichtenstein’s series of paintings, collage, and sculpture, leading up to his death in 1997, is a very logical chapter in his stylistic approach to genre, which Gagosian has presented in a steady succession of shows. Following an exhibition of Pop portraits of girls from the 1960s (2008) and a show of Cubist-inspired still lifes from the 70s (2010), the work pulls together remnants of previous investigations, in a further push into abstraction, ephemera, and layered context. –Whitney Kimball, NYC Contributor

Roy Lichtenstein | Landscape with Boat, 1996. oil and magna on canvas, 58 3/4 x 96 1/4 inches
Photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Throughout mural-sized rectangular vertical and horizontal canvases and collaged paper studies, the signature benday dots again pervade. Rather than serving as the graphic, single-tone filler which the name “Lichtenstein” usually brings to mind, here fields of dots fade as they shrink and disperse. The premise is still clear, but overlapping atmospheric planes merely suggest mountains, cliffs, rivers, and sky.

Most of the works, including the sculpture, continue to aspire to the flatness of print. Stainless steel and patinated bronze slabs form multi-patterned craggy rocks and bonzai trees,which themselves appear to be steely, double-sided versions of the paintings, which appear to be finished versions of the collage studies in the back gallery. The sculptures’ width and gestural arms recall the artist’s many variations of high-contrast brush strokes.

ROY LICHTENSTEIN | Bonsai Tree, 1992. painted cast pewter and patinated bronze, 51 x 43 x 10 5/8 inches.
Photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

The paintings take that gesture farther. In the middle of a smaller, square canvas “Small Landscape,” the artist performs the unthinkable: an actual, messy swath of paint is scraped across a smooth and brushless landscape, where one would expect a lake to sit. This isn’t, actually, a revelation; rogue brushstrokes similarly appeared throughout the 80s in the “Paintings” and “Brushstroke on Canvas.” (Nor was it new then. Though he’s thought of primarily as a Pop painter, Lichtenstein was working with versions of Cubism and geometric abstraction as early as the 1940s, Abstract Expressionism throughout the 50s, and throughout his lifetime cited inspiration in Frans Hals, Claude Monet, and Edgar Degas.) In others, like the ovular “Flower with Bamboo,” several paint techniques collide: stenciled yellow flowers look sponged-on, while brushstrokes are unhidden in long, green leaves.

Roy Lichtenstein | Brushstroke, 1965. offset lithograph, 23 x 29inches
Photo Courtesy of artnet.

Other landscapes are stripped down, almost to complete abstraction, similar to the “Mirrors” series from the 1970s and benday sunsets from the 1960s. The vertical canvas “Landscape with Cliff” is simply two planes: one pink, and one yellow-orange, overlapping, with little tufts of spongey-green bushes. If not for the textured indication of foliage and the context, this might not be a landscape. The same goes for “Landscape With Grass,” a vertical canvas of many-layered benday mountains, whose wavering yellow stripe on the righthand side throws everything out of whack. Is the stripe a reference to the border on a scroll painting? A disproportionately large blade of grass? A curtain? Did he run out of paper? What space is this?

Throughout, gestures resemble variations of shorthand. In many, such as “Landscape With Scholar’s Rock,” what could be a tiny black Chinese character from afar indicates a man in a boat-- a parallel tactic used in the brushstroke sailboats in “Sailboat,” 1981. Another, slightly larger, comic book figure carrying two bundles on a rod, is almost a stick figure. The atmospheric landscapes, plus the spelled-out people read as opposing languages, quietly defying each other at full effect.

Roy Lichtenstein | Landscape with Scholar's Rock. 1997. oil and magna on canvas, 79 x 156 inches
Photo courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

As much as this verges on yet another redundant, academic study of representation and aggrandizement of process (as it does in the back gallery, which contains multiple pencil studies and maquettes for the sculpture “Scholar’s Rock,” alongside smaller collage studies for each of the paintings), the show manages something far more interesting. For someone whose work has always been regularly framed in terms of style, Lichtenstein took great pains to remain in flux: a quality which makes his late works surprisingly fresh.

Roy Lichtenstein | Landscape in Fog, 1996
Photo courtesy of


Whitney Kimball is a New York-based painter and art writer.


Recent posts

Thursday, December 22, 2022 - 18:17
Tuesday, August 3, 2021 - 15:19
Friday, June 26, 2020 - 13:03
Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 14:02
Tuesday, March 10, 2020 - 14:55