A wailing child is shown in bright colours, an abrasive and entertaining introduction to the strange visual world and language of Roy Lichtenstein. In Reflections on the Scream, painted in 1989, the loud colours that have been applied in Lichtenstein's idiosyncratic strict, stencilled style show his clear reference to print media, and yet this image has been painstakingly painted by hand. Lichtenstein's images have the cartoonish immediacy so central to the greatest Pop Art, as well as a marked irreverence for the dos and don'ts of artistic tradition and taste.
In his paintings, Lichtenstein deconstructed and reassembled the very vocabulary of pictorial information and the way that we interpret images. In Reflections on the Scream, he has portrayed the baby's head with the merest silhouette; the mouth agape is represented by a black oval. These simple devices are part of a visual shorthand adopted and adapted from the print media, from commercial art, from the everyday world around us. They are simplifications, but at the same time, their conciseness means that they are idealisations. This is the archetypal infant, a sort of Everybaby that stands in for so many other babies in the real world.
At the same time, Lichtenstein has played with the nature of representation through the use of 'reflections,' showing the bawling baby as though in a mirror. This he has accomplished through the fade and glare effects to the child's left and right. Lichtenstein, in an act of extreme art historical sleight of hand, has tricked the viewer into interpreting this as a mirror, yet looking analytically at the painting's surface, this is a far cry from trompe-l'oeil. Discussing the representation of mirrors in his paintings, a theme that he had explored in pictures since the late 1960s and to which he returned again and again, Lichtenstein explained:
'Mirrors are flat objects that have surfaces you can't easily see since they're always reflecting what's around them. 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' (Lichtenstein, quoted in M. Kimmelman, PORTAITS, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, reproduced at www.lichtensteinfoundation.org).
In Reflections on the Scream, the art historical games and somersaults that Lichtenstein is playing on his viewer are emphasised by the title itself, which sounds contemplative, as though it were the name of a poem relating to the celebrated masterpiece of Edvard Munch. Thus, in terms of content, style, and even title, Lichtenstein has shown to what extent, 'All my art is in some way about other art, even if the other art is cartoons' (Lichtenstein, quoted in J. Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein, Cologne, 2000, frontispiece).