A Retrospective

The subject of the Perfect/Imperfect series demanded a change in studio protocol for Lichtenstein: instead of employing preliminary sketches derived from mass-produced images, these works were self-generated—in many ways like his Modern paintings (on view in a previous gallery)—with initial studies for these compositions plotted on graph paper. Line becomes the primary structural element, forming webs of shapes filled with areas of dots, diagonal lines, and flat color. The series represents his most sustained, if intermittent, foray into total abstraction within the Pop idiom. Lichtenstein followed a rule in the composition of his Perfects: "The idea is that you can start with the line anywhere, and follow the line along, and draw all the shapes in the painting and return to the beginning." Imperfect paintings are nearly identical, but where the Perfect idea celebrated boundaries, the Imperfects humorously subverted them. Lichtenstein explained, "In the Imperfect paintings, the line goes out beyond the rectangle of the painting, as though I missed the edge somehow." Accommodating this "mistake," each Imperfect includes an attached triangular protuberance that breaks the edge of the canvas.

These works certainly owe a debt to Nicholas Krushenick's Pop abstractions and Frank Stella's shaped canvases of the 1960s, as well as to the cool geometry of Neo-Geo (short for Neo-Geometric Conceptualism), a style practiced concurrently with Lichtenstein's production of the Imperfects. Somewhat radically, he embraced the potential for the works in this series to be read as decor. As blank parodies, early versions of these works had already debuted as props in the Artist's Studios paintings (on view in a previous gallery). Lichtenstein acknowledged the series as an evolved parody: "It seemed to be the most meaningless way to make an abstraction . . . dumb paintings . . . [like] the nameless or generic painting you might find in the background of a sitcom, the abstraction hanging over the couch."

Roy Lichtenstein. Perfect Painting, 1978. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Private Collection.

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