This work will appear in the forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné being prepared by the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
In Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, Roy Lichtenstein recapitulates the key themes of his classic 1960s paintings by integrating comic book heroines and everyday objects of consumer culture within a fictitious world where Lichtenstein’s own paintings and the classical tropes of modernist art history live side-by-side. In this lively and inventive image, all the trappings of a sleek, modern interior are coolly rendered in Lichtenstein’s signature Ben-Day dots, diagonal lines and vibrant Pop palette. Created in 1994, the collage belongs to the artist’s Interiors series. Lichtenstein has long been an artist who sought innovation while continuing to work within his trademark style, and during this era he begins to translate the comic heroines of the 60s into classical nudes. In Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, Lichtenstein returns to the DC Comics that he had first used in 1963 as the basis for the sleek, red-haired nude that is displayed upon the interior wall, whose fiery coif stands in brisk contrast to the sensuous curves of her bare body.
By this stage of his career, Lichtenstein had filled his Southampton studio with an endless array of books, magazines, posters, newspapers, comic books and other ephemera that he spent a lifetime collecting. In Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, Lichtenstein takes the vintage DC Comic series Falling in Love from 1963 as the inspiration for his nude, along with a black-and-white illustration of a sectional sofa and one of his own paintings—Unchained Melody—that he includes along the left interior wall. With all the mastery of a great conductor, Lichtenstein arranges these disparate elements within a beautifully-composed interior scene, which is palpably felt in the hand-painted paper that he expertly shaped with scissors and the carefully-taped black outlines that flawlessly delineate each form.
Rather than copying from the original source, Lichtenstein made several revisions to his red-haired nude that can be traced from his original drawing, to the present collage and to the final painting. As in the original Falling in Love panel, the lascivious gaze of our central heroine conveys a keen sense of sexuality, yet in stripping her bare, Lichtenstein subtly twists and elongates the figure’s body, so that her nude back is nearly pressed against the picture plane. Not unlike Ingres’ odalisques, Lichtenstein lengthens and elongates her figure ever so slightly, in order to lend a palpable sensuality and softness to his otherwise crisply-rendered form. He renders her 60s coiffure in a vibrant, flaming red, while leaving her lips unpainted. Ben-Day dots of varying sizes cover her face and nude body.
By the time Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher was created, Lichtenstein had developed a rigorous working method that required a series of carefully executed steps en route to a finished painting. He generally began by making a drawing that was based on a commercially-printed image, which he then projected onto museum board up to ½ the size of the finished painting. This he developed into a collage, using printed and painted paper that allowed him to swap in and out background colors and Ben-Day dots. There is a high level of craftsmanship to these collages, which were invaluable to the artist’s working process since they allowed for a great degree of flexibility and experimentation, in which Lichtenstein perfected and reworked key formal elements.
In Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, Lichtenstein unites the two great genres that have long dominated his work—comic books and Modernism—and incorporates them within a pristine domestic environment. The two paintings that hang alongside Lichtenstein’s nude recall the Modernist still lifes of Picasso: one with two pitchers whose skewed angles recall Cubist collage and another that depicts the basic principles of draughtsmanship in cylinder, cone and sphere. In these two paintings, Lichtenstein eliminates the painterly brushwork of his Modernist forebears in favor of the Ben-Day dots, diagonals and precise black outlines that define his style. In a painstaking process that often took weeks to complete, Lichtenstein absolutely eliminates any trace of gesture, so that the finished work appears nearly mechanically-reproduced, technically “perfect” as the title cunningly indicates.
A key element within the genre of still life paintings, the pitcher would have held great significance for Lichtenstein—as well as any artist in general—and would have recalled the great Modern masterpieces of Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse. In fact, the pitcher frequently recurs in Lichtenstein’s work. It appeared in his first interior painting Artist’s Studio No. 1 of 1973 and several other paintings such as Still Life with Picasso. Lichtenstein’s Artist’s Studio No. 1 was itself inspired by Matisse, so it is likely that he would have visited the blockbuster Matisse Retrospective of 1993 that was held at the MoMA, which included several still lifes with pitchers.
In Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, Lichtenstein depicts the modernist trope but instead of strictly copying from Matisse, he transforms the pitcher into his own idiomatic vernacular, simplifying the form into a black-and-white schematic that uses diagonal cross-hatching to indicate shadow and contoured with thick black outlines. His rendering makes no attempt at verisimilitude but rather adheres to his signature style. Lichtenstein worked from reproductions rather than life, so there is a further flattening and simplification that is a shared commonality of the very comic book panels and advertisements upon which the painting is based. To further complicate this notion of reality versus replication, Lichtenstein also includes a pitcher near the lower edge, this one rendered exactly as in the painting-within-a-painting, but placed upon a table to indicate a real-life object. If Lichtenstein has removed the pitcher from the wall and places it within the “real” world of common objects, what does this indicate about his view of “high” art? His sardonic depiction of the artist’s thumb along the lower edge of the painted pitchers furthers the complex relationship between what’s being depicted and the real-world “reality” that the artist inhabits.
With imaginative playfulness, Lichtenstein transports the original concerns of his classic 60s paintings into a new realm, situated within the pristine domestic interior of Collage for Interior: Perfect Pitcher, in which his best work engages in a dialogue with the history of art itself.