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Critical Review

In 1994, Lichtenstein came full circle with his Nudes series, returning to his cartoon heroines from the 1960s to interrogate the Nude genre itself. 1923) delved into a broad range of subject matter throughout his career. In 1994, the artist came full circle, returning to his cartoon heroines of the 1960s. Those initial works propelled him to the forefront of the Pop Art movement, cementing his iconic status in the realms of contemporary art. Lichtenstein’s 1994 Nudes interrogate the most ancient genre of art history; the highly sexualised female nude.

Lichtenstein’s Nudes were composed using hand-cut as well as computer-generated dye-cut stencils. Rather than capturing the bodies of live models, the artist decided to fabricate the female figures himself. Consequently, he sourced their physical female attributes from his extensive archive of comic strips and movie stills. The artist also took inspiration from two of art history’s most famous modern masters, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Accordingly, his Nudes abstracted the female body to its simplest and most essential form.

The naked bodies in this series may at first glance appear to be generic objects of desire, just as in traditional paintings. However, the women depicted on Lichtenstein’s canvases have an entirely contemporary air about them. They are completely in control of their own experiences. These leading ladies are all portrayed on their own, or with another female companion. The leading men who accompanied Lichtenstein’s distressed heroines of the 1960s are altogether absent from this series.

Lichtenstein’s Nudes are caught in intimate moments. The figures are cropped closely by the artist, in order to create an underlying sense of tension. Some are unaware, and frankly quite uninterested in the world outside their comfortable interior scenes. Other figures stare directly at the observer, leaning into view, imposing their unapologetic selves upon the spectator. This type of compositional technique undermines the conventions of interpretation, wherein the passive subject is usually the one regarded by the active voyeuristic gaze.

It is clear that Lichtenstein utilises a familiar, yet reformed pictorial language in his Nudes. The artist tightly clusters his Ben Day dots in certain parts of the picture as a means to denote shadow. Meanwhile, patterns in other areas are very soft and sparse, representing light. Lichtenstein employs his extensive and variable-sized dots as a means to mimic chiaroscuro, a method used to achieve strong contrasts in historical paintings. Lichtenstein’s dots cascade all over the canvas, from top to bottom, transgressing and obscuring the boundaries and outlines of the depicted bodies. Thereby, the foreground of the works is flattened against the background.

Why is the Nudes series important?

Nevertheless, a select few parts of the composition still suggest pictorial space. Lichtenstein models his Nudes with heightened dimensionality, contrasting their curvilinear torso’s to the geometric and figurative elements of their interiors. As such, the prints oscillate between realistic, three-dimensional representation and decorative, two-dimensional patterning. Additionally, the Nudes relate to previous compositions from Lichtenstein’s creative output, including Reflections, Mirrors, Interiors and his Imperfect series. The artist sneakily integrates motifs and objects borrowed from these past series, assimilating them as part of the interior.

In the end, Lichtenstein’s Nudes reveal more about the artist’s constantly evolving visual language than the subject matter of female form. The series showcases a perfect distillation of Lichtenstein’s graphic lexicon, revealing an artist in complete mastery of his craft.

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