Leo Castelli Gallery (LC 242), New York
Sotheby’s, New York, 4 May 1993, sale 6414
Private collection, since 1997
Andros, Museum of Contemporary Art-Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Glancing at the Century, 28 June – 20 September 1998, p. 132, ill. p. 132
From 1963, Lichtenstein had been experimenting with landscape subjects, to which he dedicated more than two hundred works until 1967. His main source of inspiration could be found in comics. He meticulously opted for the comic book panels showing an interesting background and isolated what reminded him of it in the composition. Then, he created his work applying the same technique as for the rest of his subjects: the use of unmixed primary colours, thick outlines painted in black and application of a plot of dots, called Ben Day, in places, originally invented in order to facilitate the massive printing of newspapers, magazines and comics.
The theme of landscape is very quickly distinguished from others, and especially the depiction of sunrises. In horizontal format, a disc representing the sun arises, possibly at different levels, but always in the middle of the composition. Either surrounded by clouds or not, it dominates on a flat surface, such as sea or land. Its rays, rather than spreading light similarly, are gathered together in beams so as to illuminate the work with powerful stripes. Thus, we found ourselves in the cliché of the sunrise, in its most romantic, more imaginary, more commercial aspect as well. It is a typical image of a postcard, that Lichtenstein makes sure it is differentiated, so that it better serves his artistic purpose. His primary aim is to eliminate all emotional involvement in his creation, in order to let his pictorial reflection take precedence. The subject is not of great importance; what comes first is its treatment.
As for his technique, porcelain enamelled steel was proven to be his passion. Lichtenstein appreciated its smooth surface and cold sensation when touching it. Just as the subject he chose was obtained from the most aseptic literature, the material that was going to bring to life was of industrial purity, as if it had been cleansed of every human intervention. However, Lichtenstein’s hand was absolutely present in realizing the work. He applied the successive layers of colours before each baking phase himself, and drew the Ben Day dots using stencils. In the case of the Sunrise shown here, he made sure he had placed on the top of the composition the blue and red dots so as to create, by an optical effect, a violet tint when looking it at a distance. Thus, the yellow sun and its rays appear even more glaring, illuminating the bluish sea as well.
Depicting the sun surrounded by its rays reminds us of childish drawings. However, contrary to the childish spontaneity, the mechanization of Lichtenstein’s process of creation distorts nature itself, leading to a kind of “ready-made” result. The composition emanates a criticism of the consumer society, being foul for romanticism and stereotypes. Most importantly, one can also see a quest for perfect harmony, created by hand and perfected using a machine, in which it is the form that dominates.