Roy Lichtenstein

Two Nudes

1994

On display at Tate Liverpool

Artist
Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Medium
Relief print on paper
Dimensions
Object: 1224 x 1046 mm
frame: 1375 x 1201 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
AL00377

Summary

Roy Lichtenstein’s print Two Nudes shows two naked women in a bedroom. One of them is lying face down on a bed in the foreground, resting her forehead on her lower arm. Her face is completely obscured by her blonde hair. The other woman is sitting on the edge of the bed and has one hand placed on the blonde woman’s shoulder as she leans over her slightly. Items in the room include a large potted plant, a table or chest of drawers with a blue vase on top of it, and a mirror or painting on the wall to the right, while on the left is a window. Parts of the image are filled with solid colour, such as the recumbant girl’s blonde hair, the orange floor and the blue vase, while the sitting woman’s body is coloured with red dots. Similar dots, in black, overlay the image on the left and right edges, becoming less dense and lighter as they stretch out towards the centre of the scene. Below the print, on the right side of the white mount, the work is signed, dated and numbered AP 1/12 in pencil, indicating that it is an artist’s proof and is number one in an edition of twelve.

Before producing the print Lichtenstein made smaller studies of the composition using graphite, tape and painted and printed paper. This work was made by relief printing, a technique Lichtenstein also used for other works depicting nudes in the early 1990s, such as Nude Reading 1994 (Tate AL00375) and Roommates 1994 (Tate AL00376). For every colour in the work a separate block would have to be cut, elevating the areas that were to be printed and cutting away everything else. To create the final image each block was carefully aligned and printed on to the same piece of paper. To create Two Nudes Lichtenstein started with an image from the comic book Girls’ Romances #94 published by DC Comics in August 1963 (‘Image Duplicator’, Lichtenstein Foundation, http://www.imageduplicator.com/main.php?decade=90&year=94&work_id=3999, accessed 18 November 2015). In the original image the women were dressed, the prone figure had black hair and the interior of the room was different. Using material from comic books and altering them for large-scale paintings and prints was something Lichtenstein had been doing since the 1960s, when he created some of his most well-known works, such as In the Car 1963 (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh). 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).

Distressed or sad girls form a large part of Lichtenstein’s work; other examples include Drowning Girl 1963 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), Oh, Jeff… I Love You, Too… But… 1964 (private collection), Crying Girl 1964 (Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee) and Reflections on Girl 1990 (Tate AL00369). Two Nudes can also be considered in this category, since the print appears to depict one crying woman and another who is trying to console her. 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, Whiting also points out that Lichtenstein selected specific frames that show women as passive and emotional, when the comics also contained scenes that showed the heroines authoritatively speaking and playing independent roles outside the house (Whiting 1992, p.11). The polarisation of gender roles is more pronounced in Lichtenstein’s work than in the comic books from which he finds his source images. This is heightened by the fact that, in Two Nudes, the artist has converted an image of two clothed women into a nude scene, thus placing it in the context of a long history of female nudes in Western art. In addition to this, the arrangement of the black dots over the image gives it the appearance of a book page, suggesting that the scene could also be a reproduction in a magazine, implying a reference to images of women in the mass media.

Art historian Hal Foster interprets Lichtenstein’s frequent depictions of women in melodramatic and emotional scenes as a comment on the way in which the mass media facilitates codes of femininity and masculinity. For Foster, ‘Lichtenstein renders these codes comical; the stereotype of the passive woman lost in romance … 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).

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.
Giovanni Mercurio, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, Milan 2010.
Hal Foster, The First Pop Age, Princeton 2012.

Nina Romijn
University of Edinburgh
December 2015

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

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