Roy Lichtenstein

Reflections on Crash


On display at Tate Liverpool

Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Lithograph, screenprint on paper and metalised PVC on paper
Object: 1502 x 1905 mm
frame: 1668 x 2065 x 65 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015
On long term loan


Reflections on Crash by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein depicts a comic strip frame of a fighter pilot in action. The scene is printed in dots and blocks of colour, using the primary colours and black and white. It features the face of the pilot in the bottom left corner of the image, in addition to parts of his helmet and the dashboard of the cockpit. A speech bubble can be seen at the top of the image, though only a few letters of the words within it are visible. In the middle of the image is the word ‘CRASH’ in white lettering, surrounded by a pointed yellow field and a pointed red field, using the pictorial language of comic strips to signify an explosion. In the right half of the image another aeroplane and part of a mountainous horizon can be seen. Superimposed over this scene are three diagonal bars, filled in with solid yellow, blue or grey dots of different sizes in dark blue, black or green diagonal black stripes and reflective paper. These diagonal bars create the illusion of the whole image having a reflective quality. Framing the image is a blue border. Below the print, on the right hand side of the white mount, the work is signed, dated, and numbered AP 1/16, indicating that it is an artist’s proof and is number 1 of an edition of 16.

To create this work Lichtenstein used a method similar to that he had used since the 1960s, which involved adapting a frame from a comic strip and turning it into a large-scale work. Lichtenstein would sketch his source image, adapting the composition, then project the sketch onto a canvas with a projector and trace his drawing, often altering it further before applying paint (Foster 2012, pp.65–6). The source image for Reflections on Crash was found in the comic Our Army at War #139, which was published by DC Comics in February 1964. The image came from a strip that was originally drawn by Joe Kubert (‘Image Duplicator’, Lichtenstein Foundation, decade=90&year=90&work_id=3739#, accessed 18 November 2015). Lichtenstein made both a preliminary sketch and a collage for Reflections on Crash, gradually altering the original composition of the comic strip frame as he did so. He then used this planned composition to create an edition of prints that used multiple techniques: lithograph, screenprint, relief and metalised PVC collage with embossing.

In the process of adapting the source image Lichtenstein would strive for what he called ‘unified form’ (Foster 2012, p.68). Although he realised that the original comic strip image was formed, or designed, he worked to improve its composition and unify its shapes. He stated that ‘the comics have shapes, but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified’ (quoted in Foster 2012, p.68). In order to achieve this in his paintings, Lichtenstein used easels that could rotate, which allowed him to look at the work from every angle. He also used mirrors to see the work in reverse. This way he could evaluate its coherence without being distracted by its subject matter (Mercurio 2010, p.88). In the case of Reflections on Crash the major adaptations from the original are in the simplification of shapes and the alteration of colours, as well as the addition of the diagonal bars or ‘reflections’ across the surface of the image, which Lichtenstein intended to approximate the experience of viewing the image through glass. This was a technique he used for a large body of work on ‘reflections’ that he created between 1988 and 1993, seen in other works such as Reflections: Art 1988 (Tate AL00383) and Reflections on Girl 1990 (Tate AL00369). Some works in this series were based on Lichtenstein’s own work, with the reflections added (as with Reflections: Art, which is based on Art 1962), while some, such as Reflections on Crash, were new works created to look as if they were adaptations of earlier, 1960s works by the artist. Exploiting the double meaning of the word ‘reflections’, Lichtenstein used this series to reflect back upon his own body of work. The diagonal reflections emphasise the flatness of the image, reminding us that this is a copy of an image rather than a depiction of the real world.

Imagery linked to warfare and the airforce appears frequently in Lichtenstein’s work from the 1960s, with notable examples being Whaam! 1963 (Tate T00897) and As I Opened Fire 1964 (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam). Like these earlier works, Lichtenstein also achieves a sense of drama in Reflections on Crash. In 1943 Lichtenstein was inducted into the US Army and began basic training and anti-aircraft training in Camp Hulen, Texas, where he learned to hit targets using anti-aircraft technology. In 1944 he entered air corps training for a short time. In December that year his division was deployed to Europe and took part in fighting in northern France. He returned to the United States in December 1945 (Bell 2007). Art historian Hal Foster has interpreted Lichtenstein’s frequent depictions of male military heroes as a comment on the way the mass media facilitates codes of masculinity and femininity. For Foster, ‘Lichtenstein renders these codes comical; the stereotype of the passive woman is lost in romance, say, or of the macho man bloodthirsty in war is inflated to an absurd point, the point of deflation’ (Foster 2012, pp.99–100). About the depiction of these stereotypical men and women, Lichtenstein has said that ‘maybe there is a point in not taking them seriously, a political point’ (quoted in Foster 2012, pp.100–1). In Reflections on Crash the stereotypical masculine hero is obscured by the reflective bars, which also highlight the flatness of the image. Like the image itself, the gender stereotype within it is constructed.

Further reading
Giovanni Mercurio, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, Milan 2010.
Hal Foster, The First Pop Age, Princeton 2012.
Clare Bell, ‘Lichtenstein: A Chronology’, Roy Lichtenstein Foundation,, accessed 18 November 2015.

Nina Romijn
University of Edinburgh
December 2015

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


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