Inside Roy Lichtenstein's Studio

Anyone who has had the privilege of visiting a great artist in his or her studio knows how exciting it can be to witness creative work in progress — and to check out the sketches, notes, objects and images that the artist chooses to keep in the space for inspiration.

A new series of photographs has recently emerged that provide an intimate look at the studio and working environment of Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. Photographer Laurie Lambrecht worked as his part-time assistant from 1990 to 1992, helping him to inventory his studio in preparation for his 1993 retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

While they were re-visiting files and scrapbooks together, Lichtenstein encouraged her to make photographs from time to time, and was often pleased and amused by the results.

Lambrecht’s photos offer fascinating insight into Lichtenstein’s working processes and source materials, as well as being vibrant works of art in their own right.

We see stencils of Benday dots and sheets of patterned paper, stacks of colored pencils, Polaroid snapshots, bulging notebooks, and clippings from newspapers, Yellow Pages, and comic books. One image shows a handwritten list of onomatopoeic words for explosions ("Whaaam", "Pling", "Whump") that Lichtenstein kept, alongside original comic book images with those words. Another shows pages from his scrapbook full of “"Crying Girls". We see sculptural pieces, paintings in progress, and lots of masking tape aligned with precision on working canvases.

Lambrecht and Lichtenstein grew close over the course of her work with him, and he became one of her mentors.

“"He was so precise in his visual and aesthetic choices. And he was a very generous person. We had great conversations," she said.

The process of making the studio images was both collaborative and spontaneous: "One day Roy walked into the studio and said, ’This would be a good day to make some photographs. Did you bring your camera?’ and luckily I had ...That was the day I made the two portraits of him where he seems to be in the painting. It was amazing ... neither one was posed. He was just touching up final details."

Lichtenstein himself took Polaroids of his paintings as he worked on them, and the square prints are visible in some of Lambrecht's shots. She explains, "It was his way of getting a different perspective and seeing the piece in small scale as he proceeded, just as other artists use mirrors to imagine how a work will look from a distance or a different angle."

Lambrecht printed some of her images in the 1990s, but this magical series has until now remained relatively unknown. This is due in part to Lichtenstein's untimely death in 1997, which, Lambrecht explains, "made the project feel different emotionally."

Also, her darkroom-processed C-prints from the early 1990s never captured the bold tactile quality she wanted. Recent advancements in digital printing technology, however, offered her more options and control in the printmaking process. By printing with ink on rag paper, Lambrecht eventually found a process that worked.

The resultant images are fresh, vivid and saturated with bold color — very true to the experiences Lambrecht had when she was working in Roy Lichtenstein's studio. As such, they offer an insightful tribute to a past master — as well as a wonderful visual treat.

Pow!  

— Zoë Fargher and Jim Casper