Defining the apogee of Lichtenstein's artistic innovation, Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) is reflective of one of the most exciting art historical moments of the last century. Aesthetically engaging and conceptually radical, its enduring presence remains as ravishing today as it first appeared to esteemed art historian Leo Steinberg, in whose collection it first resided. Along with Dore Ashton, Henry Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer and Peter Selz, Steinberg was a speaker at a December 1963 symposium at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, attended by Lichtenstein, in which the term of "Pop Art" was endorsed to describe the new movement. Dorothy Seiberling, Steinberg's wife at the time, was the art editor of Life magazine and wrote an influential article promoting Lichtenstein's work with the consciously provocative title of "Is He the Worst Artist in America?" published in January 1964.
The corresponding larger study for this work, a magna on paper painting, is held in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum. Close comparison with the two source images for Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) reveals the remarkable significance of Lichtenstein's subtle yet critical editing process. Lichtenstein composited the two readymade frames from a comic strip, making a number of crucial adjustments to alter not only the composition, but also to transform fundamentally the character of his portrait and the emotional import of the image. Not only does the cartoon heroine convey angst as she furrows her eyebrows toward the male visitor at her door, but her pursed lips are frozen as if she is about to respond to the man’s exclamation, suspended forever in mid-thought and allowing the viewer to interpret the next frame. Intriguing and mysterious, she demands our attention and seduces our gaze, ultimately becoming the consummate muse of both artist and viewer.
Upon viewing this drawing we may think we have been seduced by Lichtenstein's Vicki, but in fact we have fallen in love with the honesty of the artist’s image. The astounding achievement of Lichtenstein's sublime drawing becomes the perfect alignment of form and function in the most elegantly influential way. While people fall in love with fictional characters every day, Vicki! I – I Thought I Heard Your Voice! (Study) invites us to fall in love with the act of artistic creation itself. A critical stand against falsified aesthetic pretense and subterfuge, this drawing is the ultimate incarnation of Marshall McLuhan's legendary and exactly contemporaneous maxim: "The Medium is the Message." Roy Lichtenstein presents here a breathtakingly beautiful subject by breathtakingly beautiful means, and delivers the ultimate expression of John Keats' observation that "What the imagination seizes as beauty must be truth." (John Keats, Letter to Benjamin Bailey, 22 November 1817)
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