Corlett Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints of Roy Lichtenstein

I.17. Brushstroke Figures Series, 1989

Corlett 226–233

The eight prints that comprise the Brushstroke Figures series are related in their subject matter to paintings begun in the early 1980s and sculpture, including Brushstroke Head IV (1987; edition 6). In all of them the artist combined brushstrokes—variously composed of diagonals, Benday dots, hard-edged cartoon strokes, and realistic brushstrokes—to suggest faces and figures.

Brushstroke Figures are Lichtenstein’s first print project with Graphicstudio, where work began in February 1987. Each of the images in the series has a collage prototype, created by the artist in his New York studio. The prints combine screenprint, lithography, woodcut, and waxtype to create rich and varied surfaces that recall the layers and textures of their collage sources while at the same time exploiting the distinctive textural properties achievable with each print medium.

The fluid, wash effects of the lithography brushstrokes were created by a mixture of copier toner and alcohol, applied to the plate with a rag. For the woodcut stroke, two types of wood—birch, which is smooth, and walnut, which displays more grain—were used, their selection for individual elements based on the desired surface texture. Three methods of woodcutting were employed throughout the series: blocks were cut by hand; a router was also used, creating, for instance, the precise diagonal lines of RLCR 3798, Nude; and the heliorelief process developed at Graphicstudio was also employed, producing the black Benday dot brushstroke in RLCR 3846, The Mask, for example.

For heliorelief, the dot pattern was photomechanically transferred to the block by first placing a film negative of the image in contact with a woodblock to which a light-sensitive emulsion had  been adhered. After the block was exposed to light, the emulsion that had been shielded from the light under the dark areas of the film negative remained soft and could be washed away. But where light had penetrated the film the emulsion hardened, leaving a protective coating on the block to define the image areas. Sandblasting was then used to cut away the unprotected areas of the block, leaving the dot pattern in relief.

Lichtenstein was the first artist to use the waxtype process developed at Graphicstudio, a screenprint process that uses pigmented beeswax instead of printer’s ink. The wax is squeegeed through a specially prepared steel screen, often in several successive layers. The printed wax can then be heated with a microtorch and burnished to produce a smooth encaustic finish. The wax also can be left unheated, resulting in a matte surface, which retains the fabriclike texture of the screen. Additional nuances of color and texture were obtained in some prints by applying dry pigment to the wax after it had been screened—aluminum powder was applied to the wet wax of the gray background in RLCR 3785, Grandpa, for example, and dry gold pigment was brushed through the screen over the heated and burnished blue brushstroke in RLCR 3776, Blonde.

Seven of the prints in this series were copublished by Waddington Graphics and Graphicstudio and have been exhibited together. The eighth, RLCR 3837, Roads Collar, was published by Graphicstudio and was included, along with the other seven works, in the subscription program of the workshop. (See Fine and Corlett 1991, p. 269-77. See also Roy Lichtenstein: Brushstroke Figures [1989 London Waddington] and Roy Lichtenstein: New Prints and Sculpture [1989 Gothenburg Wetterling].)

(Corlett 2002, p. 206)