Saturday, 10 December 2011

Dotted Landscapes

Landscape in Fog, 1996 by Roy Lichtenstein
Gagosian Gallery in Pedder Building always presents interesting exhibitions, and the latest continues to bear the standard.

"Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style" is an intriguing one that draws the curious to check out the show.

What do they look like?

Lichtenstein (1923-1997) creates his version of a Chinese painting by using his signature Pop Art style of various Benday dots like the ones from comic strips. The results are undulating mountain silhouettes in the background and bonsai trees in the foreground, or a tiny man on a sampan. He continues in the style of ancient Chinese paintings where nature is overwhelmingly larger than man to create contemplative pieces of work that are also thoroughly modern.

Landscape with Rock, 1996
"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 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," he once said.

The gallery leaflet explains Lichtenstein was particularly interested in paintings from the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and re-interpreted the traditional scenes and motifs using his own established methods and materials.

For the most part the paintings do look like they were printed, but some with crooked trees or shrubs have a bit of sponge painting for a bit of texture.

One that stood out for me was Landscape in Fog (1996) where there's a black mountain in the background, then Lichtenstein has vigorously added a "fog" using a thick brush strokes of blue, white and gray before returning to the regularity of the dots and a small tree on the left hand corner.

Scholar's Rock, 1997
Not only did Lichtenstein study Chinese landscapes, but also how the artists portrayed rocks in their works. The result is Landscape with Rock (1996), a large piece of rock in the foreground that he gives some three dimensional feel with the varying density of the dots, and a creamy-yellow background with a mountain range in the far distance.

His fascination with rocks in Chinese paintings also extended to sculpture. There are also sketches of how he would execute the sculptures as well as the final result. Some versions are various layers of thick board accurately cut and put together and painted in a variety of stripes and colours. Meanwhile Scholar's Rock (1997) is cast and painted in steel.

I didn't know Lichtenstein made these series of works before he died in 1997 and the fact that he made these pieces is very interesting. Not often do you see artists taking ancient Chinese landscape paintings as their inspiration and recreating it in their own style.

Roy Lichtenstein: Landscapes in the Chinese Style
Gagosian Gallery
7/F, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street

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