Sunday, April 27, 2014


Today's installment in the ongoing "art outside the Portland Museum" series is the largest and probably newest of the lot. Brushstrokes is the enormous, brightly colored Roy Lichtenstein sculpture outside the museum's north building (the old Masonic temple). It's right on the Park Blocks in front of the building, it's painted in bright primary colors, and it's about 30 feet tall. You can't miss it.

Brushstrokes is part of a larger series of paintings and sculptures made beginning in the mid-1960s. Portland's Brushstrokes was created in 1996, making it one of Lichtenstein's last works. The series began with paintings in LIchtenstein's unique style, like the ones at the Tate in London, and at MoMA in NYC. The sculptures came later, starting in the 1980s, and were inspired by the earlier paintings. An art museum in the Hamptons has a pair of Tokyo Brushstrokes sculptures on display. The Getty has Three Brushstrokes, and the New Orleans Museum of Art recently acquired a Five Brushstrokes. Brown University appears to have another copy of the same Brushstrokes that Portland has. There was even a Brushstrokes chair and ottoman, circa 1986-88. The New Orleans story has a good explanation of what motivated the Brushstrokes series:

Roy Lichtenstein, who was born in 1923, made his mark on art history in the rock 'n' roll era. At the time, highly emotional paintings by abstractionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning were the rage. Lichtenstein’s approach couldn’t have been more different. He imitated the lowbrow illustrations in comic books with a meticulous, passionless painting style. The impersonal, melodramatic comic book cells that he reproduced seemed to mock the earnest emotionalism of the self-involved abstract painters that came before him.

To put an even finer point on his dryly humorous commentary, Lichtenstein created deadpan close-up paintings of drippy action-packed brush strokes – just the sort of fevered brush strokes that Pollock and De Koonig had made famous. Lichtenstein re-imagined some of those satirical brush strokes in three dimensions – “Five Brushstrokes” is an example.

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