Late in his career, in the mid-1990s, Lichtenstein broached one of the most ancient genres of art, the nude, returning to the female subject in a new and provocative way.
Unlike many artists, Lichtenstein did not use live models for his depictions of the female body; instead he returned to his archive of comic clippings to select female characters as subjects – and then literally undressed them, by imagining their bare bodies under their clothes before painting them as nude.
The paintings Nudes with Beach Ball 1994 and Blue Nude 1995 are examples of his late approach to the nude, brought together at a huge scale in original compositions of single, double and group portraits. The result is a disturbing violation of conventions. The noble nude has been rendered as erotic graphic pulp; the paintings propose her large schematic bland body as an object of desire, yet she experiences desire as well, often captured in a state of reverie or bliss. Like Picasso and Matisse before him, Lichtenstein’s fascination with the painter/model relationship reaches a new level of intimacy and sensuality, meshed with the formal concerns of his painting.
The female presence is ambiguous, with Benday dots that break the conventions of chiaroscuro by overlapping and eliminating the fleshly contours of her body to blur the distinction between figure and background. The last work in the series, Interior with Nude Leaving 1997, announces both the departure of the figure and the arrival of a new visual language. Shading here is freed from contours and line has taken on colour in such a way that it renders space newly complex, while staying true to the credo Lichtenstein had learned as an art student: ‘Form is the result of unified seeing.’