Roy Lichtenstein's monumental Nude with Blue Hair represents the triumphal return of the comic heroine in the Pop master's late career. This provocative domestic goddess, rendered in the artist's bold signature style, is a modern variation on an ancient artistic genre. Like Picasso, Renoir, and Matisse before him, Lichtenstein seized on the classic theme of the female nude late in life, using the motif to invent new creative possibilities. The Nudes became one of Lichtenstein's last major series, which was instigated in 1993 and curtailed by the artist's death in 1997. During this prolific period, he explored the theme extensively, producing prints, drawings, collages, and large canvases like the present work. Together the series has been recognized as a significant component within the artist's oeuvre.
Lichtenstein's first nudes emerged out of a concurrent series of Interiors paintings, which caricatured the lavish spreads of pristine homes in magazines like Architectural Digest. The Interiors focused on a subject that has long captured the fascination of Pop artists: the myth of blissful bourgeois domesticity. They depict rooms cobbled together from illustrations of furniture and reproductions of artworks and all lack a human presence to bring the spaces alive. As the series evolved Lichtenstein gradually took the pictures of nudes off the walls and allowed women to inhabit these ultra-cool environments. In doing so, Lichtenstein ensured his muses remained as carefully edited and stylized as the furnishings that surround them. The subject of the nude fulfilled Lichtenstein's fascination with strong visual and cultural clichés as well as his preoccupation with style and form. It enabled him to make a knowing and witty nod to art historical precedents, including that of his own world-famous oeuvre. The result was a double loop of appropriation that exemplified new approaches to visual practice in the post-modern era.
Presenting the comic-book girls in the nude within composite scenes meant they were not a straight redux of what had gone before. They instead provided a vehicle for Lichtenstein's continued testing of formal artistic methods. In Nude with Blue Hair diagonal stripes and Benday dots simultaneously evoke and flatten the picture's depth of field. These graphic techniques, typically used as short-hand to define shadow and volume, spill over the girl's curvaceous body and onto her surroundings, creating a peculiar spatial conundrum that highlights the artificiality and unreliability of the image. "My nudes are part light and shade, and so are the backgrounds, with dots to indicate the shade," Lichtenstein explains. "The dots are also graduated from large to small, which usually suggests modeling in people's minds, but that's not what you get with these figures. I don't really know why I chose nudes. I'd never done them before, so that was maybe something, but I also felt chiaroscuro would look good on a body. And with my nudes there's so little sense of body flesh or skin tones--they're so unrealistic--that using them underscored the separation between reality and artistic convention" (R. Lichtenstein, quoted in M. Kimmelman, PORTRAITS, Talking with Artists at the Met, The Modern, The Louvre and Elsewhere, 1995, reproduced at www.lichtensteinfoundation.org).