The two pieces I selected are by Roy Lichtenstein and Jackson Pollock. These two works are relative to the various genre and medium exploration I am currently creatively invested in. I viewed Lichtenstein’s work, “Girl in a Window,” at the Whitney while in New York City. Pollock’s “Number 10,” I saw on display at the MFA in Boston. The two pieces initially seem quite different from one another, when in fact they are quite similar.
Pollock’s style of action painting was a catalyst for the establishment of Abstract Expressionism as a movement and was responsible for bringing American painting to the forefront of the international art community. Roy Lichtenstein’s style was focused as cubist inspired expressionism in his earlier works. It was not until the 1960’s that he began painting comic forms and became part of the initial forward thrust of the POP art movement.
Roy Lichtenstein’s, “Girl in a Window ,” is a large scale composition that presents as a vertical portrait of a Caucasian woman; whose skin tone is comprised of Ben Day dots. The repetition of the Ben Day dots as a replicable form adds to the idealism within the piece while identifying it as part of the POP movement. The subject is hanging out of a window from the waist up; she fills the majority of the frame. The immense size of the woman within the composition makes her figure seem imposing within the space, but not overbearing. Her arms are partially crossed with one hand moving towards her mouth. She seems as though she is laughing and the right hand is gesturing as if it is about to cover her mouth and clench her arms across her body. She is wearing a solid brightly colored yellow dress; her hair is vivid red, matching her bright red lipstick and sleek red fingernail lacquer. Her eyes are shut so the viewer cannot engage in her gaze. The expression on her face is as though she is enjoying herself. The window from which she leans out is decorated with a ruffled curtain that is blowing through the open bottom half. The upper part of the window is stylized to represent glass. The casing of the window is white and the frame of the window is trimmed in green. It appears to be attached to a white clapboard structure. The paint appears to be flat, though upon a closer look one can see the paint’s texture.
Jackson Pollock’s, “Number 10, ” is a nonrepresentational abstract expressionist painting that presents the composition horizontally. When looking at the piece, one is stuck by the shear length of the work. It consists of colors ranging from glossy black and silver, with inlays of yellow, ochre, copper, orange, and teals with varying degrees of sheens; some are matte while others are glossier. The dominating colors within the background of the work appear to be the ochre and silver. Like the black, they appear to be applied thicker and with more volume than the other colors. It seems as though the under layer consists of thinner drip lines and smudges of copper and orange. There is a feeling of “all-overness” present. The black supports this with its calligraphic like flow in the middle- ground throughout the piece. In certain areas of the composition, the paint presents a textural bagginess which alludes to a reaction between the Alkyd and the oil. The movement of the paint, and the way the black and silver meld together shows the application of this particular layer of paint was wet on wet; whereas other spaces within the composition, the tooth of the canvas is still visible. The foreground of the piece consists of thin drips and skinny splatters of ochre and teal all over the top of the canvas. The physical creation of the work, the way the paint is applied, allows the viewer to move in and out of the piece the same way the paint does. One can view it from a distance; however, once one engages the piece by approaching it, one must walk the length of the piece to fully immerse oneself within it.
“Girl in a Window,” is similar to “Number 10,” as both compositions have an appearance of being completely covered—“all-overness” as was common in Abstract Expressionist paintings. Both compositions imply movement. In Pollock’s piece the movement is evident in the application of the paint through the physicality of the pieces’ creation. Lichtenstein expresses the movement through the stylized presentation with exaggerated lines and constructed forms that illustrate the representation of an actual brushstroke. The way the paint is applied by Lichtenstein shows references to Abstract Expressionism. The way her hair is painted, seems to illustrate the ribbons of dry brush and is reflective of the way deKooning encompassed a canvas with wide strokes of black. The appearance of the glass in “Girl in a Window,” denotes abstract shapes and the expressionistic movement. This is similar to the silver and black paint in “Number 10.” The way the colors meld together in the latter, is notably reminiscent of expressionistic movement within the forms portrayed in the glass of the window in the former. The hair is the antithesis of the two pieces, as it represents a wide swath of brushstroke. Jackson Pollock, in particular, eliminated the use of brushstroke within his work. He would also conduct his compositions on large splays of canvas laid upon the floor that he later cut-up into many works. This is comparable to the anti-aesthetic attitude also associated with the beat generation. William S. Burroughs similarly cut-up his writings and then reassembled them for publication. This process is quite different than Lichtenstein’s, whose initial studies are usually quite small prior to his projecting the image onto canvas to make it larger.
The two works also call into question high-art versus low-art. As Jackson Pollock was canonized by Greenberg and Abstract Expressionism rose to critical acclaim, largely representational works in the vein of Lichtenstein were not attended to. Abstract Expressionists tried to remove themselves from everything and in essence became the very presence of art in America. Years later, when Lichtenstein began creating his comic works, utilizing preexisting “low-brow” comic books and strips, he converted the context of which they were viewed by the public and by the art world.
Through the careful study of both of these pieces I came to the conclusion that in their relative times, both of these pieces were read differently. As time has passed and history has unfolded, they are more relative to one another. The way repetitious forms and everyday objects are represented in POP art is similar to the way repetitious language has formed around Abstract Expressionism, as well as the recognition associated with the “Pollock style” of painting. This has essentially turned his work and his style into POP art. Lichtenstein has traces of Abstract Expressionism represented throughout many of his works; before he began his cliché paintings he became known for, he had initially rooted himself in expressionistic practices.
The differences within the similarities of the pieces selected create a forum to weave the work together through visual analysis of the respective compositions. These two artists are relative to the history of their respective genres, as the artists who created these works and the way they have influenced one another and affected two very important movements in American Art in the mid-20th century.
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