In 1965-6 Lichtenstein made a series of paintings depicting enlarged brushstrokes. Ironically, the motif was taken from a printed source, the comic book story entitled The Painting, printed in
Strange Suspense Stories in October 1964. Here Lichtenstein used it to make a direct comment on the elevated content and loaded brushwork of Abstract Expressionism. The brushstroke, as the
token of the artist's personal expression, is depersonalised. The motif is screenprinted onto paper in a manner usually associated with advertising or publishing to the effect that it seems
banal and everyday.
When the Brushstrokes paintings were first exhibited, they were regarded as Lichtenstein's sly nod to Abstract Expressionism - specifically, the brushstrokes and spatters of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. By rendering these spontaneous, autographic marks in a clichéd commercial art style, Lichtenstein questioned the authority of these purportedly inimitable gestures. He explained, "Brushstrokes in a painting convey a sense of grand gesture; but in my hands, the brushstroke becomes a depiction of a grand gesture."
The initial source for the series was derived from the comic panel "The Painting" in a 1964 issue of Strange Suspense Stories. The first work in the series, Brushstrokes (1965), duplicates a hand holding a paintbrush from the cartoon panel, though it is now reduced, cropped, and stylized by dots and flat color. The flattened drips, as well as the fine trailing outlines in Little Big Painting (1965), add a clear sense of motion to these works' otherwise cool reserve.