The Print Project: Hokusai, Monet and Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein. Reverie from 11 Pop Artists, volume II. 1965 (published 1966)

What happens when Roy Lichtenstein translates mass media printing techniques, notably the Benday dot, into paintings and then back into print? What has happened that the final result does not land back into the banal?

Another story of the path from print into painting and back into print might help explain that.

Much of Monet’s work was influenced by Japanese prints.  The prints offer a view of everyday life, emulated by the Impressionists, but they also captured an instant.




So, not only would a Hokusai print depict a flower, but a flower in a particular wind and weather.  Note the wings of a  the butterfly.


Monet, “Grainstack”

When asked about the origin of Monet’s series of paintings “Grainstacks”, he said that he was working in the field and noticed the light changing. He asked his step-daughter, Blanche, who frequently assisted him, to bring him another canvas, and another and another. He changed the canvases  every few minutes to accommodate the changing light.

I think that it is far more likely that Monet’s inspiration for the series came from Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mt. Fuji”.  Monet collected Japanese prints and owned several biographies of Hokusai.

Hokusai, "Mount Fuji"

Hokusai, “Mount Fuji”

In Hokusai’s “36 Views of Mount Fuji”,   he captured the iconic mountain under numerous conditions.  Monet did the same with his “series paintings”, but perhaps most famously with his Rouen Cathedral paintings.  Here, the monolith is transformed by light.



Monet, “Rouen Cathedral”


In 1968 Roy Lichtenstein used photos of Monet’s cathedrals for a series of paintings and lithographs, using not the Impressionist dash or even the pointillist’s dot, but the banal Benday dot.

Lichtenstein not only reinterprets Monet’s series, but gives a nod to the original print source of Hokusai.

Prints by Hokusai in Monet’s collection:


Roy Lichtenstein:



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“What are you painting?” “Garbage.” “No, what are you painting?”

Yes, I really am painting garbage. I didn’t set out to paint garbage. I didn’t wake up one morning and say painting garbage would be a good thing to do. Instead, while walking near a friend’s house in Sasebo, Japan, I passed the recycling center. In it they were moving bales of recycled paper to prepare them for transport.

Japanese Recycling Center, Sasebo, Japan

Bale of Recycled Paper

The image of their surface was striking to me, like a Harnett trompe l’oeil painting, and the structure of the bales made me think of Don Judd’s boxes.

Harnett, “Mr. Hunting’s Rack”

Donald Judd, “Untitled”, c. 1968-69

Leslie Parke, “Recycled Paper – Sasebo, Japan”, 58 x 48 inches, oil on linen, 2008.

You see, I didn’t see the bales as garbage, but as a comment on art history, part of the continuum of image making. For me it carried everything from Lichtenstein’s cartoon paintings, to Jackson Pollock’s all-over composition.

Roy Lichtenstein

Jackson Pollock, “Lavendar Mist”

Sometime later, on a trip to Maine I took the recyclables to the dump and nearly leaped from the car when I saw bales of crushed cans. Again there was the possibility of trompe l’oeil imagery, but with the crushed metal and shiny lids a new element was introduced – light and the reflection of the surrounding onto the surface of the cans.

Leslie Parke, “Not From Concentrate”, 40 x 60 inches,oil on linen, 2010.

Circles, folds and bands were added to the vocabulary.  So were references to John Chaimberlain’s sculpture and Jasper John’s Savarin coffee can.

John Chamberlain, sculpture

Jasper Johns, “Savarin Can with Brushes,” 1960

I would not disallow a reading of these paintings as an environmental statement, but it was not where I was coming from when I landed on this imagery.

Leslie Parke, “Diced Tomatoes”, 36″ x 58″, oil on linen, 2010.