Roy Lichtenstein

Reflections: Art


Not on display
Roy Lichtenstein 1923–1997
Oil paint and acrylic paint on canvas
1124 x 1937 mm
Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Lent by Private Collection, Courtesy of The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation 2015
On long term loan


Reflections: Art was made in 1988 by the American artist Roy Lichtenstein. It features the word ‘ART’ written in white letters with a red drop shadow, set against a solid bright yellow background. The letters almost fill the composition and are surrounded by white and dark blue borders. Appearing over the top of the white border and letters are four diagonal white strips in varying degrees of thickness. These are filled with dark blue dots that increase in density towards the right of each strip, such that they resemble surface reflections or beams of light.

In preparation for this painting Lichtenstein made a small sketch using graphite and coloured pencils on paper (see Drawing for Reflections: Art 1988, reproduced in Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, ‘Image Duplicator’, undated,, accessed 10 February 2016). He then made the painting using a combination of oil paint and magna, an acrylic that is mixed with turpentine instead of water and gives a glossier finish compared to regular acrylic paints. Although Lichtenstein used printing techniques later in his Reflections series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he initially painted these works by hand, as is the case in Reflections: Art. This creates a juxtaposition between the handmade nature of the work and the mechanical appearance of its many straight lines and characteristic Benday dots – the latter of which were appropriated by Lichtenstein from newspaper and comic printing processes. Lichtenstein frequently used mirrors during the painting process in order to see his paintings in reverse and evaluate their compositional coherence (Mercurio 2010, p.88), a technique that is made visible in this work through the diagonal strips, which seem to represent light reflections.

This painting refers to an earlier work by Lichtenstein, Art 1962 (private collection; reproduced in Waldman 2003, pp.72–3), which differs from Reflections: Art in the sense that it lacks the border and diagonal strips that obscure the letters. For Art 1962 he was inspired by an instruction manual titled Silk Screen Techniques from 1958, which shows a piece of material with the word ‘ART’ on it being used in place of the artist’s material ¿– possibly fabric, paper or film – to demonstrate various stages of the creative process of printing. In a humorous and critical gesture Lichtenstein translated this symbol into a ‘real’ piece of art, and in Reflections: Art he presented it as if framed and behind a pane of glass, challenging ideas about originality and repetition in creative authorship (Mercurio 2010, p.35).

Reflections: Art is one of Lichtenstein’s earliest paintings in his Reflections series, in which he looked back on his own and others’ work and made reference to them. Some of the works, such as Reflections: Art, refer directly to his earlier output, while others cite his recognisable pop art style (see, for example, Reflections on Crash 1990, Tate AL00368, and Reflections on Girl 1990, Tate AL00369) or iconic works of art by other artists (such as Claude Monet in Water Lilies with Japanese Bridge 1992, Tate AL00373). These works also feature the diagonal strips that create the illusion of a reflective surface. Lichtenstein’s fascination with such surfaces can be seen earlier in his career, as in 1969–71 when he painted almost fifty depictions of mirrors without anything reflected in them, based on a printed catalogue of mirrors that he had seen (see, for instance, Mirror #10 1970, Museum of Modern Art, New York). In 1995 Lichtenstein stated that his mirror paintings were ‘just an excuse to make an abstract work’ (quoted in Bader 2009, p.69).

Lichtenstein’s mirrors and reflections form barriers and therefore distance between the work and the viewer, for whom the picture becomes at least partly obscured. They also create an awareness that what one is looking at is a representation or reproduction. The same might be said of Lichtenstein’s use of printing techniques such as Benday dots, which highlight the fact that whatever the viewer is seeing is a depiction, not an object experienced at first hand. The title Reflections: Art may therefore be a commentary on the way in which the printed media have a distanced relationship with reality. It may also be a reference to the viewer’s contemplation of the work, set alongside the artist’s own reflection on his practice.

Further reading
Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 2003.
Graham Bader (ed.), OCTOBER Files 7: Roy Lichtenstein, London 2009.
Giovanni Mercurio, Roy Lichtenstein: Meditations on Art, Milan 2010.

Nina Romijn
The University of Edinburgh
February 2016

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

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