Roy Lichtenstein

Reflections on Girl

1990

On display at Tate Liverpool

Artist
Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Medium
Lithograph, screenprint on paper and metalised PVC on paper
Dimensions
Object: 1146 x 1391 mm
frame: 1302 x 1552 x 65 mm
Collection
ARTIST ROOMS
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection 2015
On long term loan
Reference
AL00369

Summary

Reflections on Girl 1990 is a lithograph screenprint by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein. It depicts a girl in profile represented in the style of a comic book illustration. The girl has blonde hair, wears a white shirt, and seems dejected. Her face and two portions of text that surround it are obscured by diagonal strips. Some of the strips have dot patterns, which echo the orange-yellow combination in the background and the red spots colouring the girl’s face. Others are striped or rendered in block colours. A border runs around the scene adding to idea that the image is a comic strip panel. However, the interaction of colours is also suggestive of a three-dimensional picture frame in shadow. Below the print, on the right hand side of the white mount, the work is signed, dated and numbered AP 3/16 in pencil, indicating that it is the third in an edition of sixteen artist’s proofs.

Reflections on Girl differs technically from earlier works made by Lichtenstein in the 1960s, which were almost exclusively oil paintings on canvas. For the series of works he made in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Lichtenstein initially painted the works by hand, but later switched to printing techniques. Printing increased the mechanisation of Lichtenstein’s creative practice and allowed him to explore further questions concerning authorship, originality and artistic value that had preoccupied him since the 1960s. While in earlier works he was interested in making hand-painted work look printed – appropriating images composed of Benday dots common to cartoon strips and comic books – in later works he experimented with elements associated with fine art objects such as the frame and the glare of glass, represented in this work by the diagonal strips.

Lichtenstein used an image from a comic book as the basis for this work, as he did for many works made since the early 1960s. This image has been traced back to the comic book ‘Falling in Love’, which was printed from 1955 to 1973 by DC Comics (see Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, ‘Image Duplicator’, undated, http://www.imageduplicator.com/main.php?decade=90&year=90&work_id=3745, accessed 13 February 2016). As with this work Lichtenstein never copied an image outright, instead combining elements from images to create what he saw as the ultimate comic book style that would be recognisable and archetypical. Art historian Kirk Varnedoe and writer Adam Gopnik argue that this process made ‘the comic images look more like the comics than the comics were themselves’ (quoted in Lobel 2002, pp.46–7).

The art historian Michael Lobel has also argued that Lichtenstein’s treatment of comic book images – which also includes cropping closer to the subject’s face and simplifying the colour scheme – removed the context, melodrama and meaning of the scenes (Lobel 2002, p.141). Consequently the viewer is left to guess at preceding and subsequent events in the narrative. Lichtenstein creates a distance between the viewer and the depicted emotion through this approach, and the reflective bars and green frame intensify that distance, highlighting the fact that the displayed scene occurs only on a flat surface, and that the viewer cannot read what is going on, symbolised by the illegible text in the balloon.

Reflections on Girl continues Lichtenstein’s frequent representation of women in melodramatic situations, such as Drowning Girl 1963 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too… But… 1964 (reproduced in Lobel 2002, p.144), Crying Girl 1964 (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee) and M-Maybe 1965 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne). Art historian Cécile Whiting argues that Lichtenstein’s representations of women ‘highlight the manner in which gender differences are constructed’ (Whiting 1992, p.9). She writes that ‘the romance paintings repeatedly deny the heroine the capacity to act … The women in Lichtenstein’s romance paintings are turned inward and confined to their inner voices’ (Whiting 1992, p.15). However, she also points out that Lichtenstein selected specific frames showing women as passive and emotional, when the comics also contained scenes that show the heroines of the story authoritatively speaking and playing independent roles outside the house (Whiting 1992, p.11).

This work is a part of a group made by Lichtenstein in the 1980s and 1990s that centre around the theme of reflections, in which the diagonal bars or reflections and the frame around the picture are frequent motifs. Examples include Reflections on Crash 1990 (Tate AL00368), Reflections on Conversation 1990 (Tate AL00367) and Reflections on Minerva 1990 (Tate AL00370). Lichtenstein’s interest in the frame suggests the artist’s own reflection on the increasingly iconic status of his work, as many of his paintings then sat behind glass in museum collections.

Further reading
Cécile Whiting, ‘Borrowed Spots: The Gendering of Comic Books, Lichtenstein’s Paintings and Dishwasher Detergent’, American Art, vol.6, no.2, Spring 1992, pp.8–35.
Michael Lobel, Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, New Haven 2002.
Hal Foster, The First Pop Age, Princeton 2012.

Nina Romijn
The University of Edinburgh
February 2016

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

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