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Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)

Mirror #3

Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Mirror #3
signed and dated 'rf Lichtenstein '71' (on the reverse)
oil and magna on canvas
60 x 48 in. (152.4 x 121.9 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
The Mayor Gallery, London
Serge De Bloe, Brussels
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 8 May 1984, lot 67
Hester Diamond, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner on 9 May 1984
Roy Lichtenstein: The Mirror Paintings, exh. cat., Mary Boone Gallery, 1989, n.p. (illustrated in color).
G. Serafini, Roy Lichtenstein, Florence, 2000, p. 37.

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Lot Essay

Executed in 1971, this work will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

Where it is relatively easy to paint, say, a hot dog, a sunset or a woman by assembling a group of Ben Day dots and magna outlines, the subject of the reflection is ineffable, essentially impossible to capture. In Mirror #3 painted in 1971, Lichtenstein has used a gradation of dots to give the sense of light cast across a reflective surface. He has deconstructed not the reality of the mirror, but instead the artistic short-hand by which mirrors are represented. "Mirrors are flat objects that have surfaces you can't easily see since they're always reflecting what's around them," Lichtenstein explained.

There's no simple way to draw a mirror, so cartoonists invented dashed or diagonal lines to signify "mirror." Now, you see those lines and you know it means "mirror," even though there are obviously no such lines in reality. If you put horizontal, instead of diagonal, lines across the same object, it wouldn't say "mirror." It's a convention that we unconsciously accept (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in M. Kimmelman, PORTAITS, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, reproduced at www.lichtensteinfoundation.org).

Lichtenstein invokes our reflexive understanding of the image, tapping into his career-long fascination with the way that we see, instilled in him from an early period by his teacher Hoyt L. Sherman. Lichtenstein casts a spotlight on the absurd way in which these essentially abstract dots and lines and areas of blank canvas come together and become comprehensible. In Mirror #3, he has taken an age-old subject, used by artists such as Van Eyck and Velasquez to create a picture-within-a-picture, and has then played with the boundaries between subject and object. He has imitated the sense of ambiguous objecthood and self-sufficiency of Jasper Johns' Flag or Target, yet has deliberately undermined that ambiguity by creating something that is flagrantly unreal.

Mirror #3 is a gleeful and deliberate failure. Lichtenstein exposes the reasons why the picture falls short of being a mirror in its own right. Rather than examining the ephemera of popular culture, Lichtenstein explores the way in which images function within the broad mass of the populace. Somehow, because of a knee-jerk reaction honed by life-long exposure to ads and mags and comics and cartoons, despite Lichtenstein's blatant markers and overt lack of reflection in Mirror #3, "It doesn't look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself" (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne, 2000, p. 68).

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