In Sandwich and Soda, Lichtenstein invigorates the western still life in terms of popular culture. Objects are centered on a tabletop, in accordance with the conventions of still life, but they come directly out of ordinary American experience. They are hardly timeless: a sweating glass tumbler of bubbling cola, a squared crustless sandwich, and two straws in a paper sleeve resting on a round plate. Although the artist works in a recognizable realist style, he simplifies the details of objects, reduces their colors to blue and white. The flat rectangles of the blue table and the red background also suggest the new American abstraction—perhaps in a witty reference to the important work of Ellsworth Kelly. The elements of Lichtenstein's style call to mind the visual qualities of American promotional advertising, more than the styles of traditional realist art. Lichtenstein's still life is an American "come-on."
The technique and materials that Lichtenstein uses are also more linked to commercial practice than the fine arts. Screenprinting was a process originally created in the early twentieth century to manufacture printed labels for consumer goods. The surface itself on which the artist printed his image is not traditional printing paper. It is an acetate sheet with no links to high art.
Lichtenstein's Pop still life ironically sets itself up to be measured against the great Dutch tradition of still-life painting. There is humor in this American lowbrow still life taking itself so seriously. Lichtenstein cleverly reminds us of its American identity in his color choices: red, white, and blue. If comically absurd, his still life is nonetheless gorgeous in its rich colors and shiny plastic surface—an enticing countertop lunch.
Roy Lichtenstein, Sandwich and Soda, 1964, screenprint, 19 x 23 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of the Betty Parsons Foundation. 1985.36D © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.
Roy Lichtenstein. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein, New York/Photographed by Robert McKeever.