WOW! – Work of the Week – Roy Lichtenstein “Shipboard Girl” 9/28/15

Roy Lichtenstein, Shipboard Girl

Roy Lichtenstein
Shipboard Girl
Offset lithograph
27 3/16  x 20 1/4 in.
Pencil signed
This work was not produced in a numbered edition.

About This Work:

Roy Lichtenstein, like many of his pop art contemporaries, was at first an abstract expressionist. Gradually, however, during the decade following his discharge from the army, he turned his attention increasingly to imagery drawn from such popular cultural sources as commercial advertising, romance and war comics, and cartooning in general.

Not only was Lichtenstein interested in the look of comic books, but also in the way they were produced. He carefully studied the way in which small dots of ink, known as Ben Day dots, were printed. He then enlarged these dots in his art to give his works the appearance of mechanically printed commercial products. Ben Day dots are the pattern of dots used in commercial printing to cheaply reproduce shading.

In the print Shipboard girl of 1965, we see Lichtenstein’s mature style in its rudimentary form. The image exemplifies all the qualities that his many paintings and prints of young women culled from romance comics exhibit — a girl, usually blonde, in extreme close-up, lips parted, her head tilted at an angle, with enormous, soft, liquid eyes, depicted at a moment of emotional climax.

Perhaps the woman in Shipboard girl is just enjoying the sun, or perhaps she is thinking of a shipboard romance that has soured.  The life bouy lounging in the background is a visual pun suggesting that she is longing for a boy to rescue her from the as-yet-unreached turbulent seas of love. This sly humor is characteristically Lichtenstein.

 What is salient about this work, however, is that here in its developmental stage, we have all the formal features which will come to characterize Lichtenstein’s subsequent output. Lichtenstein’s visual vocabulary, the characteristic elements of his style, are flat areas of unmodulated color, a schematized cartoon-like outline, the removal of anecdotal detail, and more importantly, the use of the Benday dots. Here we see him working towards a style which will become uniquely identifiable as his, and which ironically, over time and in its final formulation will replace the original in the very cartoon context from which it was derived.

About The Artist:

Roy Lichtenstein (October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was a prominent American pop artist. His work defined the basic premise of pop art better than any other through parody.  Favoring the old-fashioned comic strip as subject matter, Lichtenstein produced hard-edged, precise compositions that documented while it parodied often in a tongue-in-cheek humorous manner.

In 1961, Lichtenstein began his first pop paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the appearance of commercial printing. This phase would continue to 1965, and included the use of advertising imagery suggesting consumerism and homemaking.  His first work to feature the large-scale use of hard-edged figures and Ben-Day dots was Look Mickey  in 1961.  This piece came from a challenge from one of his sons, who pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said; “I bet you can’t paint as good as that, eh, Dad?”  

Lichtenstein had his first one-man show at the Castelli gallery in 1962; the entire collection was bought by influential collectors before the show even opened.  It was at this time, that Lichtenstein began to find fame not just in America, but worldwide.  His work featured thick outlines, bold colors and Ben-Day dots to represent certain colors, as if created by photographic reproduction.  However, rather than attempt to reproduce his subjects, his work tackled the way mass media portrays them.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his style began to loosen and he expanded on what he had done before.  His style was replaced with more surreal works.  His “mirror” paintings consist of sphere-shaped canvases with areas of color and dots.  Lichtenstein also created a series of still lifes (paintings that show inanimate objects) in different styles during the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, Lichtenstein began to mix and match styles. Often his works relied on optical (relating to vision) tricks, drawing his viewers into a debate over the nature of “reality.”

Lichtenstein’s work is included in numerous museums, such as the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Denver Art Museum, Denver; Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Foundation Beyeler, Basel, Switzerland; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. 

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