Crak is one of Roy Lichtenstein’s most celebrated works, created during a seminal period of the American Pop artist’s prolific career, and is one of his most iconic. Used as a marketing image for one of Lichtenstein’s earliest shows at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, the poster image depicts a woman wearing a beret firing a rifle with the prominent text, ‘CRAK! … NOW, MES PETITS … POUR LA FRANCE’. Rendered in Lichtenstein’s characteristic use of the Ben-Day dot and delineated, comic print aesthetic, Crakis a distinguished work from the artist’s œuvre.
The comic strip style was a means for the artist to visually represent narrative in an accessible and engaging manner, adeptly incorporating a wide range of subject matter relating to the human condition. The composition of Crakis reworked from a narrative written by Bob Haney and illustrated by Jack Abel in Star Spangled War Stories#102 from 1962. Lichtenstein crops and partially abstracts the image, and adds sand bags to the bottom left corner of the composition. It belongs to an established tradition of work created by the artist that relates to the military aesthetic and monocular vision. Politically loaded or socially subversive statements are barely concealed beneath the vibrant colours and graphic forms, and the overt approach to violence and female power is striking and profound. Adapting the original source in this way, Lichtenstein transforms the image and imbues it with his own artistic style, and was sophisticated in his reinvention of the visual language of popular culture. In his own words, "I am nominally copying, but I am really restating the copied thing in other terms. In doing that, the original acquires a totally different texture. It isn't thick or thin brushstrokes, it's dots and flat colours and unyielding lines."
Born in Manhattan in 1923, Roy Lichtenstein was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement during the second half of the 20th century. 1963 was a significant year for the artist’s career, during which he made some of his most well-known and successful works alongside Crak, including Whaam!, Hopeless and Drowning Girl. They are depicted in his primary colour palette and with a satirical take on popular fiction that elevates trivial or familiar subjects into meaningful social commentary, blurring the distinction between high art and visual culture. This prosperous period of his career would go on not only to establish his name at the forefront of the American Pop Art movement, but to shape the trajectory of modern art.
Lichtenstein’s unique artistic style originates in the visual language of advertising and mass consumerism that was at the forefront of American popular culture during his lifetime, and his work evokes a society of widespread commercialism that has remained powerfully relevant to this day. He adapted artistic techniques from the commercial printing industry in his work, for example his appropriation of the Ben-Day dot, a technique derived from the images reproduced in newspaper print, meticulously mimicking the industrial process in his own hand. He also produced works that were influenced by comic strips, appropriating and parodying the typical motifs such as lettering and speech balloons, all of which would become signatures of his artwork. These distinctive and culturally relevant tropes are defining elements of Crak.