After completing several canvases with identifiable comic-book characters, Lichtenstein moved on to subject matter taken from other forms of printed media. These canvases feature objects and actions that are deadpan renditions of consumer advertisements or rituals of domestic life. At this stage in his career, Lichtenstein used a limited palette. These works were painted for the most part with red and yellow, along with black or white, and color was expressed in flat planes or patterned dots, usually contained by a thick outline. (Later, dots in multiple colors were overlaid on one another to create more complex patterning.)
Keds (1961), inspired by an advertisement for Sears, Roebuck & Co., depicts a pair of sneakers, greatly enlarged, from different angles. Lichtenstein significantly reworked the composition by tipping the shoes toward the viewer. To heighten the drama, he placed them on a jagged field of yellow, reminiscent of advertising starbursts and a harbinger of the Explosions that were soon to come. Works like Cup of Coffee (1961) and Hot Dog with Mustard (1963) are idealized versions of their real-life counterparts. Their appeal lies in their utter simplification; Lichtenstein used minimal line to express maximum information.
Washing Machine (1961) and Spray (1962) are taken straight from the ideal home. These scenes promote ways of making a housewife's life easier: automatic washing machines clean with the power of space-age detergents, and sparkling surfaces are achieved through new and improved aerosols. Even a simple garbage can is glorified. Lichtenstein's use of a double canvas in Step-on Can with Leg (1961) recalls Renaissance religious diptychs, ironically elevating the mundane act of popping open a garbage can to the status of fine art.
Roy Lichtenstein. Keds, 1961. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. The Robert B. Mayer Family Collection, Chicago, Illinois, USA.