Executed in 1964, this work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
This remarkable drawing belongs to Roy Lichtenstein's most celebrated series - his mesmerizing 1960s portraits of women. Lichtenstein took these women from the pages of romantic comic books, helping to define the age of Pop Art. They reflected his formal interest in the nature of representation and the cultural dichotomy between male and female stereotypes. They are among the most desired 20th Century art works, and are housed in the world's major art museums and prestigious private collections. Drawing for Kiss V itself has been in private hands for nearly fifty years. The present owner acquired it at one of the legendary Happenings organized during the 1960s. This work has remained in the same New York private collection since that time. This unique piece of history captures the remarkable aesthetic and cultural zeitgeist of the New York art world at a time of revolutionary change. This exquisite work bears all the hallmarks of Lichtenstein's distinctive working method that are central to his signature style. We can clearly see the artist's defining use of bold lines in the strong graphite lines outlining the key features of the woman's face and hands. The fingers, lips, eyes and nose all possess a distinctive strength both in the graphite's own darkness and in the pressure of the vigorous gestures Lichtenstein used to apply the graphite pencil to paper. He highlights the range and diversity of his line, by contrasting these robust marks with a softer use of graphite for the more delicate and evocative areas of the woman's flowing blonde hair. We can also clearly see Lichtenstein's distinctive use of hatching to denote depth and volume. The strong blue shading in the upper left most visibly demonstrates this, but we can also see it, to a softer degree, in the lighter shading that Lichtenstein employs for the more delicate facial areas, both in the man and the woman. This method would become one of the most distinctive characteristics in Lichtenstein's oeuvre and grew into the foundation for all his future work. We can also clearly see Lichtenstein's characteristic close cropping of the image in Drawing for Kiss V, which forces the woman's features to fill the entire picture frame. Classic Lichtensteins successfully employ this device, together with the detailed depiction of the woman contrasted with the relative anonymity of the man, in many of his major Girl paintings such as Ohhh...Alright... (1964) and Kiss II (1962).
Roy Lichtenstein's images of girls defined a time when art was released from the refined surroundings of the art establishment's galleries and museums and became part of the wider public consciousness, along with Andy Warhol's celebrity portraits and Campbell's Soup Cans. Lichtenstein's produced Girls during a relatively short burst of creativity between 1961 and 1965, and they have become among the most recognizable Post-War art works. He based them on images he found in romance comic books, producing works that combined the "high-art" genre of painting with the "low-art" world of the comic book, and in doing so he perfectly captured the era's zeitgeist. "At that time," Lichtenstein recalled, "I was interested in anything I could use as a subject that was emotionally strong - usually love, war, or something that was highly charged and emotional subject matter to be opposite to the removed and deliberate painting techniques. Cartooning itself usually consists of highly charged subject matter carried out in standard, obvious, removed techniques" (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Coplands, ed., Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1972, p. 89). The year 1964 was key in the development of Lichtenstein's Girls, during which he painted some of the most important examples such as Crying Girl, Blond Waiting and Happy Tears. Lichtenstein also completed Kiss V, the painting based on this drawing, in 1964, which is currently in the private collection of one of the most important collectors of Lichtenstein's work in the United States.
The present owner acquired the work as part of an event organized by the Artists' Key Club - a group formed by the artist Arman to fight against the art world's increasing commercialization. Alan Kaprow recalled how the group was brought together, "One of the issues in the art world of the time was whether to stay in the gallery/museum ambiance or not. In 1965, Penn Station was undergoing renovations. Large sections of wall space, including some banks of lockers, were curtained off with painting drop cloths. When we first checked out the station, we saw those lockers and together hit on the idea of secreting small works of art" (A. Kaprow, quoted in B. Chernow, Christo and Jeanne-Claude: An Authorized Biography, New York, 2000, p. 156). The event invite asked participants to go to the Hotel Chelsea in New York and hand over $10 in return for a key to one of the lockers at Penn Station. Inside each of these lockers was a work that a fellow artist had donated, including Roy Lichtenstein, Arman, Christo, Niki de Saint-Phalle and Andy Warhol. No one knew which locker they would be allocated, or what it contained. Art historian and writer Barbara Moore witnessed the frenetic preparations for the event:
Friday, March 12, 1965
7:30PM: Meet in Arman's room #930 at Hotel Chelsea.... Great disorder.... Arman's art collection plus 104 objects and art works.... Roy Lichtenstein has given 4 signed drawings plus 4 anonymous toys. Christo arrives late.
8:50PM: Great care in packing works into cartons, shopping bags and grocery cart.... Everything counted--there are 52 art works, 52 gifts. No-body wants to carry Dieter Rot's cheese pieces because they smell so much.
9:00PM: Piled into elevator with objects, Kaprow pushed against Rot's cheeses. Elevator stops at each floor on the way down, 1 or 2 people manage to squeeze in....
9:10PM: Stuff loaded into Kaprow's car. Once again the cheeses are almost left on the sidewalk, since no-one will touch them (B. Moore, quoted in B. Chernow, Christo and Jeanne-Claude: An Authorized Biography, New York, 2000, p. 156).
This drawing's current owner worked as a typist at the art publisher Harry N. Abrams Inc. and was invited to attend the event with a girlfriend. She paid her $10 and duly went up to Penn Station with her key and upon opening the locker was rewarded with this exquisite drawing, which has remained in her private collection ever since.
This event was to be the only one of its kind organized by the Artists' Key Club, the excitement and bravado of its founding members soon dissipating into other, more radical projects. But the event captured the defining zeitgeist of the time. "Childish or exquisitely irrational, playful or irreverent parody of the stifling commerce defining the establishment, the Artist's Key Club's sole event resonated with the spirit of the moment. The club came and went in a flash, its thirteen members having lightheartedly engaged in just one of many actions taken outside a gallery system that seemed propelled increasingly by money, not art" (B. Chernow, Christo and Jean-Claude: An Authorized Biography, New York, 2000, p. 157). Despite its short-lived existence, the legacy of the event lives on in the present work. Not only is Drawing for Kiss V a fascinating example of Lichtenstein's mature work in which we can see all of all his signature motifs in captivating detail, it also captures the excitement of the times. It pertinently reminds us of the age of change that swept through the art world during the early 1960s.