Roy Lichtenstein

Modern Art II

1996

On display at Tate Liverpool

Artist
Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Medium
Screenprint on paper
Dimensions
Object: 1229 x 973 mm
frame: 1336 x 1086 x 46 mm
Collection
ARTIST ROOMS
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015
On long term loan
Reference
AL00382

Summary

The print Modern Art II depicts fragments of a face seen from multiple angles. The picture is divided into several rectangular fields that are separated by diagonal lines, with each field containing a different section or view of the face. Three blue eyes are visible in the top half of the picture, interspersed with profiles of a forehead and a nose, mouth and chin, hanks of blue and yellow hair, a red mouth, and a conical nose made up of a green plant-like shape and a pair of yellow and brownish-black nostrils. Between these are abstract patterns such as patches of dots and diagonal stripes in green and black. The print has a thick white margin, the bottom right of which is signed, dated and numbered ‘AP 3/10’, indicating that this print is the third in an edition of ten artist’s proofs.

Modern Art II was made in 1996 by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein using the screenprinting technique. This process involves ink being forced through a fine mesh onto paper, except for areas where it is blocked by an impermeable substance that has been applied to the mesh. Since only one colour can be printed at a time, several screens have to be used to produce a multicoloured print such as Modern Art II, and printing requires careful alignment of the paper beneath the screens. Lichtenstein had been using this technique since the mid-1960s in works such as Sandwich and Soda 1964 (Tate P77811) and Brushstroke 1965 (Tate P07354). Before printing Modern Art II, Lichtenstein made a slightly smaller study of the work using tape and painted and printed paper on board (see Modern Art II (Study) 1995, reproduced in Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, ‘Image Duplicator’, undated, http://www.imageduplicator.com/main.php?decade=90&year=96&work_id=4007, accessed 22 January 2016). Modern Art II was preceded by Modern Art I 1996 (Tate AL00381), a colour screenprint that also features abstracted, fragmented segments of a woman’s face.

Modern Art II features many visual components that correspond to Lichtenstein’s earlier work of the 1960s. Firstly, it contains parts of a female face framed with yellow or blonde hair, as seen in works such as In the Car 1963 (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh) and Crying Girl 1964 (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee). Secondly, Lichtenstein has made use of Benday dots for the colouring of several fields in this print. Benday dots create specific effects and colours depending on their density and level of overlap, and were commonly used in newspapers and comic books. Lichtenstein’s application of this printing technique for subjects that are not usually associated with high-volume printing is a characteristic feature of his work.

Aside from visual correspondences to Lichtenstein’s earlier work, Modern Art II thematically references the work of other artists, which is a recurring trait in Lichtenstein’s practice. Modern Art II plays on tropes that have been considered typically ‘modern’ in painting, such as the cubists’ method of breaking up the picture plane into multiple viewpoints. The print references one of the most famous examples of cubism: the conical nose in the middle of the picture is reminiscent of those of the two figures on the right hand side of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). The silhouette of nose, mouth and chin in Modern Art II could also correspond to the profile of a face that appears in the top right corner of Picasso’s The Three Dancers 1925 (Tate T00729).

Allusions to Picasso appear several times in Lichtenstein’s work, such as in Cubist Still Life 1974 (National Gallery of Art, Washington) and Woman with Flowered Hat 1963 (private collection; reproduced in Alloway 1983, p.42). In 1989 Lichtenstein stated:

Picasso had always been a very big influence on me in the 1950s, and I was always I guess trying to hide the influence in a way, which everyone was trying to do then. But most art – De Kooning and Pollock especially – both seemed to have enormous Picasso influences on them and I think everyone was under the shadow of Picasso and suddenly to do one that really looked like Picasso seemed very liberating.
(Quoted in Mercurio 2010, p.137.)

Art critic Lawrence Alloway regarded Lichtenstein’s appropriation of Picasso as having a critical edge, writing that the artist used mechanical printing techniques to highlight ‘how well [Picasso’s paintings] fit into the culture of reproductions’ (Alloway 1983, p.46). In Modern Art II Lichtenstein combines aspects of his own pictorial language, rooted in pop art and comic books, with elements of avant-garde high art. His quotation of Picasso in turn echoes the latter’s quotation of African and Oceanic art in his painting. Modern Art II seems to highlight the way in which modern art relies on a cycle of inspiration and quotation, questioning the meaning and value of originality in art.

Further reading
Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1983.
Gianni Mercurio, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, Milan 2010.

Nina Romijn
The University of Edinburgh
January 2016

The University of Edinburgh is a research partner of ARTIST ROOMS.

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