In the summer of 1961 Lichtenstein abandoned the Abstract Expressionist style of earlier works and began to use commercial art as subject-matter in his painting. Kitchen stove, painted in the winter of 1961-62, was one of the first of those works.
The source of Kitchen stove was probably an advertisement. The painting mischievously retains the copyright symbol, located in the lower left-hand corner, and the Ben Day dots used by printers to reproduce tone. The Ben Day dots in Kitchen stove and other early works are laboriously reproduced by hand, and only later by mechanical means. Lichtenstein stated that it was his intention to follow the original commercial reproduction as closely as possible: 'The closer my work is to the original the more threatening and critical the content'.1
Colour in Kitchen stove is limited to yellow and blue, typical of the restricted palette of these early works. Lichtenstein explained in a 1971 interview that he was:
looking for the most contrast. Each colour had a certain character to me: the yellow was acid, and a colour that seemed to contrast as much as possible with it was a blue that was almost violet … I got some of these colours from supermarket packaging. I would look at package labels to see what colours had the most impact on one another. The idea of contrast seemed to be what advertising was into in this case. An advertisement is so intensely impersonal!'.2
The simple placement of the image in this composition is repeated in other works of 1961-63, such as Cherry pie 1961 (collection Anthony Berlant, Los Angeles), Golf ball 1962 (collection Melvin Hirsh, Beverly Hills), and Roto-broil 1961 (collection Leonard Asher, Los Angeles) which depict the consumer goods of a post-war United States. 'In these objects', said Lichtenstein, 'the golf ball, the frankfurter, and so on, there is an anti-Cubist composition. You pick an object and put it on a blank ground. I was interested in non-Cubist composition. The idea is contrary to the major direction of art since the early Renaissance which has more and more symbolised the integration of "figure" and "ground"'.3
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.316.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra