This print is from a group of seven Reflections prints which Lichtenstein completed at Tyler Graphics in 1989-90, another of which also appears in Tate’s collection (Reflections on Hair 1990, Tate P12127). The image is partly obscured by semi-abstract blocks of colour and pattern, both printed and collaged to the surface of the print, which simulate reflected light, as if the image shown is behind glass or reflected in another surface. This simulated reflection is a conceit Lichtenstein developed in a series of Reflections paintings he started in 1988, but has a precedent in earlier works. Lichtenstein regularly paraphrases other pictures in his art, often reusing aspects of his own works, and Reflections on Brushstrokes is a typical example.
Lichtenstein, a leading figure of American Pop art, is best known for his 1960s paintings derived from comic strip panels, such as Whaam! 1963 (Tate T00897). The style of painting he developed highlighted the industrial printing methods used in the production of his source material. By reproducing the Benday dots of commercial printers, while harnessing them to decorative effect, Lichtenstein created works that had the appearance of having been mechanical produced.
Throughout his career, Lichtenstein continued to base his imagery on materials sourced from popular culture and the mass media. There is an element of humour, then, in Lichtenstein reusing his own motifs as Pop artists might quote found imagery, along with the recognition that his own works had become part of this collective mass of visual culture. Each work in the Reflections series refers directly to one aspect of Lichtenstein’s iconic Pop and comic images: the blonde girl, the war comic, the brushstroke, as well as to the gilt frames of his Emblatures series of the mid 1970s or his Reflections series of images of mirrors.
This particular image also refers to Lichtenstein’s brushstroke paintings which he began in the 1960s, and returned to again and again in his work (see Brushstroke 1965, Tate P07354, for example). The brushstroke, as rendered by Lichtenstein, is a motif, a caricature of the grandiose gestural mark and its inherent meaning in an art historical context. With his stylised brushstrokes, Lichtenstein at once parodies the gravitas of the gesture in Abstract Expressionism and the spontaneity of action painting, and disconnects the work from the hand of the artist, from individual genius. By reducing all this to a series of coloured dots, something little more than decorative, Lichtenstein embodied all that Pop art stood for in one image. Adding his reflections to the image, Lichtenstein felt, further personified Pop’s self-referentiality. He viewed this combination of motifs as a culmination of all his ideas. “I like the idea of the brushstroke on (printed canvas), and then with reflections it is even better. That’s why I like Reflections on Brushstrokes. It shows all of the paint and it has the glass in front, and the canvas and brushstrokes, so it encompasses all that is art – more or less.” (quoted in Corlett, p.41)
The production of the print run was technically complicated, combining a number of different printing processes, including lithography, screen print, and relief (woodcut). Silver metallic plastic film was collaged on the surface of the print, and areas of the image are also embossed. The work was produced in an edition of 68 with 16 artist proofs.
Print Matters: The Kenneth E. Tyler Gift, Tate, 2004, reproduced p.59 in colour
Jane Kinsman, The Art of Collaboration: The Big Americans, exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Australia, 2002, pp.26-47, reproduced p.40 in colour
Mary Lee Corlett, The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein: A Catalogue Raisonné 1948-1993, New York 1994, pp.40-41, 42, 121, 300, reproduced p.41, reproduced p.224 in colour