About This Work:
When one thinks of Roy Lichtenstein, one does not think of American Indian Art. However, Lichtenstein was interested in the people of the Old West, particularly Native American Indians. Lichtenstein’s engagement with American Indian art is reflected in two periods: his earliest work and his Surrealist series of the late 1970’s-1980’s.
His interest in American Indian art began during the days of his childhood in New York, during several visits to the American Museum of Natural History. In 1950, he began a series of jokey takeoffs on heroic myths and legends. His interest was also partly stimulated by his experiences in Southampton during the late 1970s when he and his wife resided near a Shinnecock Indian reservation, and by the collections of friends such as Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Donald Judd, all of whom were known to have acquired Native American blankets and other objects to use in their work.
Some of the themes that Lichtenstein used in his works are American Indian symbols, specific designs for mythical animals found on pottery and in books, and the hatched lines from Southwestern pottery, textiles and ceramics, just to name a few.
Lichtenstein’s Two Figures With Teepee is part of a series of six small intaglios, all of which are soft-ground etching, aquatint and engravings about the American Indian theme. This series was accompanied by another series of six woodcuts, larger in size and different in style. This particular phase of Lichtenstein’s American Indian-inspired work occurred from 1979 to 1981, long after he had established his familiar Pop style.
This work has a classic Native American palette formed by saturated reddish-brown, green, yellow and black pigments, with the mold-made Lana paper constituting the rest of the image. The tones refer to the earth and the colors that American Indians use for their textiles and handcrafted items.
In Two Figures With Teepee several important elements are present, all recalling the American Indians’ lifestyle and traditions: lightning-like zigzags and crosses symbolizing the four directions, arrow-like triangles, graphic patterns that symbolize wood and leather textures, and a strong component of geometrical abstraction through which the artist reshuffled, stripped and reworked the elements in the flat planes and geometry of Synthetic Cubism.
The first figure is formed by a blue eye with and eyebrow and a braid, like the long braids of the American Indian women. The second figure is formed by a squared eye – a type of eye that Lichtenstein often used for this series – and a group of feathers that resembles the typical American Indian headress, almost always decorated with feathers. Both figures make reference to the larger woodcut series.
Two Figures With Teepee is formally and iconographically very interesting, a perfect example of the spatial dislocation, proper of the Cubist movement, that unifies all the elements instead of dividing them. Some critics have also stated that the powerfully graphic nature of Native American art most likely appealed to Lichtenstein due to its visual similarity to his own style at this time.
Other works by this artist: