oil and Magna on canvas
Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris
E. J. Power, London
Private Collection, Torino
Acquired from the above in 1972
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Roy Lichtenstein, October 1993 – September 1994, cat. no. 55, p. 58, illustrated in color
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art; London, Hayward Gallery; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Roy Lichtenstein : All about Art, August 2003 – September 2004, cat. no. 15, illustrated in color
Alberto Boatto & Giordano Falzoni, eds., Lichtenstein, Rome, 1966, p. 53, illustrated
Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1971, fig. no. 58, illustrated
Ernst A. Busche, Roy Lichtenstein Das Frühwek 1942-1960, Berlin, 1988, fig. no. 150, p. 241, illustrated
Lichtenstein is acknowledged as the master of graphic clarity and an innovator of image appropriation who crafted Pop Art masterpieces that redefined the boundaries between High and Low art through an ironical interplay of popular culture and fine art. His comic strip-inspired paintings of Romance and War subjects, derived from everyday common sources, are now themselves cultural talismans of the late 20th century. His borrowings from commercial printing techniques were prescient harbingers of the increasing influence of our media saturated times. Along with other Pop artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein's style and frame of reference was a conscious step away from tradition, whether in the classical mode of narrative composition or the emphasis on the artist's touch championed by the more recent Abstract Expressionists. On the most obvious level, his pictorial vocabulary was predetermined by a reliance on source imagery and his aesthetics were expressed by the vernacular style of mechanical reproduction. Yet Half Face with Collar, and other comic-strip inspired paintings of the early 1960s, defines one of the ironies of this Pop innovator – Lichtenstein's innate gift for editing so as to capture the telling gesture of an emotive moment. Yet in this key aspect, Lichtenstein was not only exceptionally proficient at composition, he was profoundly insightful about the nature of perception. His Pop paintings such as Half Face with Collar are seductively pleasing to the eye, but on a deeper level, they are testaments to the power of the image. By removing his chosen image – often a cliché – from its source, Lichtenstein ultimately turns the painting into a receptor of perception rather than a conveyer of information. It is the viewer who is the interpreter and Lichtentein's ultimate engagement is to investigate the nature of art. As Poul Erik Tøjner wrote, ``You see a trace, a sign – but its origin is blocked off. In other words, you see something that isn't there. What you see is what you don't see. ....[It] points to the heart of Lichtenstein's art, which revolves around the paradox of visibility: the clearer the figures appear in his work, the more they are hidden.'' (Exh. Cat., Humlebaek, Lousiana Museum of Modern Art, Roy Lichtenstein: All about Art, 2003, p. 12)
As in Half Face with Collar, Lichtenstein magnified and transferred his images to canvas by hand – and later by stencil as in the present work - in a painstaking process that distanced him from both the expressionistic details of brushwork and the naturalistic representation by heightening the heavy stylization of the comic book source. "I want my painting to look as if it has been programmed. I want to hide the record of my hand." (the artist interviewed by John Coplans in Exh. Cat., Pasadena, Art Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1967, p.12) Like the greatest works of the period, Half Face with Collar harnesses the rigorous stylistic order and overwhelming graphic clarity of the comic strip while simultaneously mimicking the modes of mechanical reproduction. Lichtenstein's palette is reduced to the core primary colors which are kept as close as possible in feeling, texture and pitch to those used in advertising and print. As the artist said, "I use color in the same way as line. I want it oversimplified – anything that could be vaguely red becomes red. It is mock insensitivity". (the artist interviewed by G. R. Swenson in Exh. Cat., London, Tate Gallery, Roy Lichtenstein, 1968, p. 12) The extensive use of the regularized Benday dot throughout the broad expanse of the picture plane simulates on a monumental scale a specific type of widely used printing technology. Diagrammatic to the extreme, the composition is articulated by the use of bold black highly legible outlines which dramatically define the image.
Hostile critics ridiculed him as an ``image duplicator'' who copied arbitrarily gleaned trite images. But in fact, any study of the artist's copious sourcebooks of clippings will reveal the extent to which he manipulated his chosen image with as keen an eye for composition and effect as any Old Master scene painter. Lichtenstein never copied an image wholesale and it is in the subtle manipulation of the images that Lichtenstein's true genius lies. As the artist comments, the difference is often not great but it is crucial: "It becomes a very exaggerated, a very compelling symbol that has almost nothing to do with the original". (Ibid., p. 12) Although an exact source image for Half Face with Collar has yet to be identified, this painting is an exemplary demonstration of the hallmark characteristic of a carefully considered and constructed composition: exacting and precise cropping. In Half Face with Collar, Lichtenstein demonstrates his sensitivity to use of foreground and background in achieving a fraught, emotional impact and powerful visual image. Small patches of yellow, black and yellow balance the chromatic composition and provide a hint of spatial background, but the picture plane is ultimately overwhelmed by the extreme close-up of a man, tugging at his color in the act of speaking to an unknown presence.
In the majority of the Romance inspired paintings of the early 1960s, a blonde woman was the focal point, often accompanied by a cartoon bubble containing a melodramatic phrase as in Oh, Jeff,...I love you, too...But...'' and Ohhh...Alright. When Lichtenstein chose to eliminate the dialogue bubble, he employed exaggerated glances and theatrical expressions to convey a hidden narrative in paintings such as Happy Tears. While such masterpieces in Lichtenstein's Pop art oeuvre are lush with female stereotypes and have become icons in our present day, a tracing of the male image and stereotype in his work is more subtle. In the paintings inspired by the War comics, men are naturally the image with which Lichtenstein engaged, and he also included the male archetype of sports figure in Baseball Manager. The male presence is also suggested in works such as Trigger Finger in the same manner as the hand wielding a sponge represented a female presence in Sponge II (1962); the actor is known by their props. In Half Face with Collar, the male who is often off-screen or in a secondary role in Lichtenstein's art is now front and center, and the artist's shrewd gift for perceiving the precise gesture and the most effective cropping is unmistakable. Lichtenstein focused on the mouth, in the act of speaking, and the hand, betraying the most masculine gesture of tension and apprehension. Unlike the painting of a romantic argument between a man and a woman titled Forget It! Forget Me! (1962), the subliminal drama requires no caption and no other actors, and Half Face with Collar is Lichtenstein at his most refined and accomplished.
Because a stereotype or cliché is so strong and so indelibly ingrained into a shared public consciousness, we readily recognize the image of Half Face with Collar. By reducing all extraneous pictorial detail and additional traces of narrative to an absolute minimum, Lichtenstein bestows on Half Face with Collar an emblematic fixity. Yet this quotation of an appropriated image and borrowing of implied narration may be the subject of the work but it is not the sole content. This last is largely left to the viewer by the artist, who chose a non-specific, literally descriptive title for this painting. He states the facts for us but does not lead us to the story. From our vantage point at the end of Lichtenstein's long career, it can be clearer to us than to early critics that the artist's subject is not necessarily a fusion of popular culture with fine art but an investigation of the concept of art itself. Series of works based on Modern and Surrealist artists, investigations of artistic genres such as still-lifes and the core unit of art – the brushstroke – would follow the comic-strip inspired paintings, clearly indicating this great artist's path through the nature and boundaries of painting. How does an image impact the viewer? Is art created by the painter or by the viewer's response to it? Simply put, is it the creative act or the interpretative act that is paramount. The mirror was a prime leitmotif in Lichtenstein's pictorial lexicon, slyly equating the reflective surface of a mirror with the surface of a painting. Pop paintings such as Half Face with Collar were deceptively blatant as they appealed to the eye or described a ``scene'' from a comic book story, yet they are early signs of Lichtenstein's challenge to the power of image in our lives. Is it all surface or is there something there other than what we read into it? As Poul Erik Tøjner concludes, ``In Lichtenstein's work it is the dazzling clarity and precision of its hyperreality that permits the picture to conceal the world from us by being a model of it. The more it looks like it, the less it looks like it.'' (Humlebaek, p. 12) In his close-up studies of melodramatic behavior such as Half Face with Collar, the content is by definition ``out-of-the picture'' or offstage in the presence of the person the man is addressing. The image is therefore not an autonomous world in itself, but requires the viewer to complete it.
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