Lichtenstein used a black-and-white palette in this series of paintings of everyday functional objects. Yet the sources he drew from for Tire 1962 and Ball of Twine 1963 were not the objects per se, but stark graphic renderings that he adopted from anonymous illustrations in newspapers and mail-order catalogues.
His restricted palette laid bare the reductive nature of commercial images. Do those jagged lines really depict a tyre tread? Lichtenstein’s versions, enlarged and sharply defined – ‘islanded’ in the centre of the canvas – are simultaneously abstract images and graphic delineations of objects.
He also explored another approach, filling the entire canvas with the image to achieve an exact fit between the work and its subject. In Portable Radio 1962 and Compositions I 1964, he noted, ‘the painting itself can be thought of as an object’.
Lichtenstein initially made his own stencils by drilling holes through strips of aluminium to apply dots on the painting. The inking was uneven and the small perforated screen had to be moved several times, resulting in blurring and other unintended marks. In 1962 he began to use larger, prefabricated Benday screens that enabled him to create more even and uniform patterns. Magnifying Glass 1963 metaphorically plays with the enlargement of these dots and reveals another strategy of pop art: subverting the scale of objects.