Roy Lichtenstein (American, New York 1923 - 1997 New York)
Signed on verso vertically from center to top in charcoal: rf Lichtenstein/'64
Oil and Magna on canvas
30 x 12 in. (76.2 x 30.5 cm)
Gift of Ellen H. Johnson in memory of Ruth C. Roush, 1979
Craig belongs to Lichtenstein's series of "Girl" paintings (1963-65), which copy, enlarge, adapt, and reframe preexisting comic-strip images of "pretty" young women.1 Lichtenstein's "Girls" are usually blond, and nearly always in a state of vulnerability, suspense, or anxiety. In Craig, the sliced-off profile of the girl in distress fills most of the canvas. She looks off into the void at the right-hand edge and beyond: wistful, open-mouthed, and overwrought.
The composition of the painting isolates and magnifies the theatricality of the girl's feeling. Lichtenstein first made a small drawing2 that established the format, thought-balloon, and nearly all the lines of the composition (though not the dots). The composition of the drawing, and of the Oberlin painting, is probably an adaptation of a (as yet unlocated) panel from a D.C. Comics romance comic, such as Secret Hearts or Girls' Romances, most of which were drawn by Tony Abruzzo, John Romita, and Bernard Sachs.3 Lichtenstein rarely replicated a comic panel exactly. He simplified the drawing, eliminated narrative detail, turned brunettes into blondes, changed character names from "Mal" to "Brad" (or "Craig"), and accentuated the Ben-day dots, in every instance, as Gopnik puts it, "making [his] comic images more like the comics than the comics were themselves."4
Lichtenstein's technique also intensifies the fabricated character of the girl. Using an opaque projector, he transferred the preliminary drawing to the primed canvas.5 The Benday dot halftones were then applied on canvas, by hand (although in later works tha artist used a commercial screen for the dots, which were applied by his assistants). The artist then filled in the hair and background with primary colors, whose effect is heightened by the stark white of the exposed ground. Traces of handwork and chance were suppressed as much as possible, resulting in a cool image of great detachment. The black lines were painted last. These conventionalized marks of anatomy, recession and relief--three long lines for the light that reflects off the cheekbone, three short lines for the declivity above the nostril, and so forth--effectively enlarge the artifice of comic book realism.
A. Kurlander with contributions by J. Wilker
Work (C) Roy Lichtenstein
Born in New York City in 1923, Roy Lichtenstein received his art-school training in New York City under Reginald Marsh, as well as at the Ohio State University in Columbus. After military service in Europe in World War II, Lichtenstein had his first one-man exhibition at the 1030 Gallery in Cleveland, where he lived from 1951 to 1957. In 1961 he began to appropriate not only the subject matter but also the style of popular comic books. It was during this early usage of the comic book aesthetic that Lichtenstein created the "Girls." Other series incorporated war themes (such as Whaam!, 1963; London, The Tate Gallery) and romantic love (such as We Rose Up Slowly, 1964; Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst). During the mid 1960s, Lichtenstein emerged as the emblematic artist of the Pop Art movement and received critical acclaim for his exhibitions at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Many of his later works translated iconic paintings, including works by Cézanne, Picasso, and Mondrian, into his signature style. Throughout most of his career, Lichtenstein also created prints, sculpture, and ceramics, as well as public commissions (such as Brushstrokes in Flight, 1984; Columbus, Ohio, Port Columbus International Airport; and the five-story Mural with Blue Brushstrokes, 1986; New York Equitable Center). At the time of his death in 1997, Lichtenstein was one of the most popular American artists.
Coplans, John, ed. Roy Lichtenstein. New York, 1972.
Alloway, Lawrence. Roy Lichtenstein. New York, 1983.
Waldman, Diane. Roy Lichtenstein. Exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993.
Busche, Ernst. In The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol. 19. London and New York, 1996, pp. 327-29.
With Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Collection Ellen H. Johnson (1964?), by whom given in 1979
Berkeley, University Art Museum, University of California, 1987. MADE IN USA: An Americanization in Modern Art, the '50s and '60s. 4 April - 21 June (also shown at Kansas City,
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; and Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Cat. no. 156.
Stich, Sidra. MADE IN USA: An Americanization in Modern Art, the '50s and '60s. Exh. cat., University Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley, 1987, p. 156.
Johnson, Ellen H. Fragments Recalled at Eighty: The Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson. Edited by Athena Tacha. North Vancouver, 1993, p. 6.
The plain tabby-weave canvas is covered with what appears to be a commercially prepared and applied ground layer, possibly bound with oil. The paint medium is a mixture of oil and Magna.6 There is some indication that the artist may have used a thin grey-black wash to initially sketch in the black outlines. The white ground is used for all the whites in the painting, a significant area of the work. The work is in good and stable condition with minor surface grime.
1. Other "Girls" include In the Car, 1963, oil and magna on canvas, 172.7 x 203.2 cm, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art; Hopeless, 1963, oil and Magna on canvas, 111.8 x 111.8 cm, collection Peter and Irene Ludwig, on loan to Basel, Kunstmuseum; and Drowning Girl, 1963, oil and Magna on canvas, 171.6 x 169.5 cm, New York, The Museum of Modern Art. All reproduced in Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein(exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1993), pls. 103, 104, and 106, respectively.
2. Craig!!, graphite and colored pencil, 15 x 15.2 cm; sale New York (Christie's), 4 May 1989, lot 147.
3. For a brief introduction to and anthology of romance comics, see Richard Howell, Real Love: The Best of the Simon and Kirby Romance Comics: 1940s and 1950s (Forestville, Calif., 1988). These comics are all illustrated by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
4. On Lichtenstein's recasting of images from the comics, see Adam Gopnik, "Comics," in High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture(exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1991), pp. 199-208.
5. On Lichtenstein's technique, see John Coplans, "Talking with Roy Lichtenstein," in Roy Lichtenstein (New York, 1972), pp. 86-87.
6. Magna is a brand of synthetic permanent colors that can be mixed with turpentine and mineral spirits. It dries quickly and with a matte finish. See John Coplans, "Talking with Roy Lichtenstein," in Roy Lichtenstein (New York, 1972), p. 87.