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Roy Lichtenstein Two figures, Indian 1979 Oil and magna on canvas. 70 3/4 x 86 3/4 in. (179.7 x 220.3 cm). Signed and dated “© Roy Lichtenstein ‘79” on the reverse.
Provenance Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 839); Private collection, Texas; Private collection, Los Angeles; Gagosian Gallery, New York; Acquired directly from the above by the present owner (1988) Exhibited New York, Leo Castelli Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein: Recent Paintings, 1979 Catalogue Essay Image © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein “They’re just a mixture of every kind of Indian design from Northwest Indians to Plains Indians to Pueblo. They are no particular tribe of Indians. It’s just everything that people vaguely associated with Indians…Anything that I could think of that was ‘Indian’ got into them.” – Roy Lichtenstein (G. Stavitsky and T. Johnson, Roy Lichtenstein American Indian Encounters, Canada, 2006, p. 25) “Then I turned to Indian Surrealism, probably under the influence of Max Ernst who did some Surrealist work that was related to the American West and featured certain Native American themes. I did a series in the 1950s that used Native American designs to make figures. These early paintings were more Expressionist in character. In the later paintings [such as Indian Composition, 1979] I used the patterns from Indian blankets or pottery to represent figures of some kind. […] Of course, there were many tribes and many different kinds of designs of Native Americans who had little contact with one another. These designs and motifs are all piled into one painting because they remind me of the concept of Native American work” (R. Lichtenstein, “A review of my work since 1961: a slide presentation,” Roy Lichtenstein, Cambridge, 2009). Perhaps no artist of the twentieth century has employed such a recognizable visual vocabulary as Roy Lichtenstein. His signature palette of bold primary colors - mostly reds, yellows and blues - set against neutral blocks of black, white and gray create a stunningly dynamic canvas from which his Benday dots and bold lines emerge. He is as well known for this very technique as he is for the subjects he paints. His art is based on both the visual culture of mass media and in the annals of art history. This approach to painting is both unique in its style and emblematic of the times in its use of appropriation. Culling inspiration from Surrealism and Native American imagery, Two Figures, Indian is a rare piece from Lichtenstein’s short American Indian period from 1979 through 1981. This was not Lichtenstein’s first foray into the subject. In the late 1950s he approached the same topic of American Indian symbols and iconography, coining the term Amerindian to refer to his work. His interest in the subject stemmed in part from the sheer visual splendor of Native American imagery as well as from a desire to explore the true roots of American mythology. During the 1940s and 50s many of the European artists who had moved to New York began to explore images of the American West. The rich symbolism and legends of Native American cultural heritage were of undeniable lure and fascination to the Surrealists. Chief among these were René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst. In this way all of Lichtenstein’s works are fundamentally conversations with both art history and popular culture. Strongly influenced by some of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, Lichtenstein both adopted and ran from the effect they had on his art. He once said that he spent his entire career running away from the particular influence of Picasso, yet he also admitted that he was never fully able to escape it. The present composition brings to mind Picasso’s Woman with a Blue Hat from 1939 in both its reduction of forms and composition. Indeed, describing the inspiration for his paintings, Lichtenstein once stated, "I think the aesthetic influence on me is probably more Cubism than anything. I think even the cartoons themselves are influenced by Cubism, because the hard-edged character which is brought about by the printing creates a kind of cubist look that perhaps wasn't intended" (A. d'Offay, ed., Some Kind of Real
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