Roy Lichtenstein: Haystack Series (1969)
Lichtenstein’s Haystack Series (1969) was inspired after a trip to Paris upon seeing Monet’s Impressionistic painting of haystacks from 1891, one of the seminal series of early modern art. Whether the artist was Monet or Picasso, or the art was cartoons, Lichtenstein made a career out of referencing other artists and schools in his work. Context was everything, and Lichtenstein boldly addressed his generation’s notion of high art and the idea of mechanical reproduction accordingly. In his pursuit to blur the line between high art and low art, originality vs. reproduction, he succeeded in convincing the world that all is art. In Haystack, Lichtenstein makes Claude Monet as iconographic as Mickey Mouse.
Lichtenstein’s interpretation of Monet’s Haystacks is a Pop Art homage to the French impressionist. Monet’s loose brushstrokes are replaced with the exactness of Lichtenstein’s signature benday dots, creating the iconic post-war, comic book aesthetic. In an interview with John Coplans, Lichtenstein compared Monet’s Haystack paintings to his prints: “The prints are a little smaller, but that’s not significant. The paintings are all different images. In terms of exactness of placement and register, the prints are better, because they can be better controlled in this medium. Working on canvas isn’t controllable in the same way…The prints are all worked out beforehand and appear purer” (Corlett 65-74).
In his original Impressionist paintings, Monet depicted a cluster of haystacks across various times of the day to draw attention to the relationship between color and light. Lichtenstein’s Haystack similarly run from morning (yellow) to midnight (black); there are ten prints in the series. For the series, he created a full-scale black-ink drawing, which was used to create the image on the plates. A negative of the drawing was laid over the benday dot stencil on the sensitized plates, recreating the pattern in the positive plate when it was exposed to light. Haystack was also Lichtenstein’s first collaboration with printer and publisher, Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles.