Art on Wheels – Roy Lichtenstein and the BMW

I have always been passionate about automobiles, and there is nothing I like more than discussing them. I’ve also always had a passion for German makes, particularly BMWs. My first “a-ha” moment (thank you, Oprah) was my aunt’s stunning Austin Healy Sprite. It was a striking shade of red, with a leather camel-colored interior. Those headlights, chrome everywhere, and wire wheels – I was mesmerized!  This class, Art 1100, is prompting me to question what art appeals to me, and which artists, if any, have captured my attention. The answer, it turns out, is easy – Roy Lichtenstein.

The BMW 3 Series has always been my favorite model. Over the course of a few years, I saw my neighbor own three successive models, from a BMW 2002, to an ice-blue 3 series, to a railroad crossing signal red 320i. I liked the simplicity of the design. Race track models (not available for sale) offered an over-exaggerated look of the 3 series.

Everything changed when I first saw Roy Lichtenstein’s take on the exact same race track model. It captured my attention like nothing else, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.  I eventually realized that Lichtenstein’s use of black dots, and broad yellow and black strokes represented the sun and a highway, perhaps the Autobahn (look carefully under the driver’s side door). On the top of the car, notice the green and black depiction of a mountain (the Black Forest?). The long strokes of blue are, I believe, the sky, and the streaks of green and black look like what I might see out of the corners of my eyes at a high rate of speed. This is moving art! It was then that I started to read more about Roy Lichtenstein and the work he was doing.

The first picture is the BMW 3 series that I could have purchased in 1977 (if I had had the money) at a BMW dealership.

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The second picture is the BMW series 3 race car as painted (on commission from BMW) by Roy Lichtenstein.

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Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923, and he died in 1997.  He was a “pop artist,” like Andy Warhol, and he was inspired, it seems, by comic book art and comic strips.

When I first began to look at Lichtenstein’s art, I was struck by his use of dots. As I read more about him, and even attended an exhibition of his art at the Art Institute of Chicago, I learned that he was mimicking the Ben-Day printing process (think: dot-matrix printer). This process was used as well in comic books of the 50s and 60s because dots overlapped in the four process colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) could inexpensively create shading and other colors, such as green, purple, and orange.

This is one of Lichtenstein’s most famous pieces, Drowning Girl.

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I do have questions about Drowning Girl.

  • What does the caption mean? Something very dramatic has happened, it seems, to get to this point – but what is it that happened!?
  • Why did Lichtenstein choose to make the girl’s hair blue? Is she actually drowning in water (unlikely, I think, as if she were she would hardly be able to call Brad anyway). So is she drowning in her own emotional turmoil? Her own bed sheets? A Dream? Is she drowning at all? She looks to me as if she is sleeping, almost in a fetal position, rather than drowning in turbulent water.

I found the picture for use here in Wikipedia. I saw it in person at the Art Institute exhibit, and the reproduction here does not do it justice. It actually is much more bright and bold, and close inspection reveals the extraordinary use of dots. (As this course progresses, I would like to learn more about pointillism.)

There is MUCH information about Lichtenstein on the Web, and one of the best sources is www.lichtensteinfoundation.org.

Al Garcia
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