Connecting the Dots: Slow Looking with Roy Lichtenstein

Slow Art Day has asked its 2013 college interns to write short summaries of their own experiences looking slowly at artworks of their choosing.

While spending some time at home in Virginia over the holidays, I headed into Washington DC to check out the National Gallery of Art’s retrospective of Roy Lichtenstein, one of my favorite artists. Lichtenstein’s mechanical, removed style has always intrigued me, as most of his paintings are void of any painterly brushstrokes. The retrospective was truly spectacular, displaying not only Lichtenstein’s cartoon style, but also some truly stunning landscape paintings made near the end of his life. These landscapes managed to combine Lichtenstein’s trademark ben day dots with traditional Chinese landscape painting, two styles I wouldn’t have expected to mesh well together.  I had never seen these works before, and spent over 10 minutes in front of this painting, Landscape in Fog, created in 1996, a year before Lichtenstein’s death.

Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape in Fog, 1996, Oil and Magna on canvas, 71 x 81 3/4 inches (180.3 x 207.6 cm).

Both painterly and mechanical, this late, almost minimalistic work seems to layer dots behind and under a more abstract expressionist brushstroke. Looking at the ben day dots receding into the white background towards the center of the canvas was difficult on the eyes; it was almost impossible to tell whether the dots were covered by the white background, or whether Lichtenstein’s virtuosity with circles produced a gradient effect. Looking at the dots up close was mesmerizing; each dot is painted individually, and the subtle flaws in the imperfect circles reminded you that the artist painstakingly filled in, by hand, every single dot. The black dots used to give the effect of mountains were equally as fascinating, as Lichtenstein included slivers of individual dots to help define the outline of the mountain peaks.

Without careful observation and slow looking, these incredible details would have been lost. Not only did I get to see a series of paintings that I had no idea even existed, I interacted with this piece in a way that helped increase my awe and fascination with Lichtenstein. As I spent more time than the other visitors in front of this piece, I felt almost a kinship with Lichtenstein, who must have taken ages to carefully paint in each individual dot; the art of slow looking connected the artist and the viewer in a meaningful way that I won’t soon forget.

Alie Cline, University of Texas at Austin
Slow Art Day Social Media Manager

[Roy Lichtenstein’s Landscape in Fog (1996) was viewed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC at the exhibition: Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective.]

Comments on “Connecting the Dots: Slow Looking with Roy Lichtenstein

  1. I love how you noticed how this is both minimalistic while still conveying so much information. I also admire you for your tenacity with staying with this piece- I think I might be almost too overwhelmed by the dizziness of the dots up close and personal!