At the time Lichtenstein was interested in examining various modernist masterpieces, reproducing them in a pastiche of comic art, rendered in oil on large scale canvases.
The quality restrictions apparent in the printing process for the cheap mass-market comics- which were hugely popular at the time- manifested as a limited palette of primary colours where tone moderation could be achieved only by means of pigment dot separation. Skin tones, for example, were attained by a sparse arrangement of primary red dots, which, when seen from the correct distance, presented the optical illusion of pink as the red is tinted with the white of the underlying paper.
Lichtenstein was intrigued by the aesthetic of such ‘low art’, and the transfiguration of ‘high art’ in juxtaposition with this rude method of reproduction.
The original Picasso, painted in 1940, was a portrait of a woman called Dora Maar, his lover at the time. Lichtenstein worked on a number of Picasso renditions during the years 1962-3.
He began by producing a small scale drawing of the artwork which would then be projected onto his canvas as a guide. He stressed at the time that he worked this way, rather than using a projected photograph of the original, as a means of preserving his own commitment to the ‘discipline of drawing’.
Is it a parody, a pastiche? Lichtenstein professed admiration for the works of Picasso, and the other artists (Cézanne and Mondrian), he treated in this manner. The colours have been altered from the original to approximate that which Lichtenstein considered would constitute an ‘insensitive reproduction of the Picasso’. The original blue of the face, for instance, has been substituted for the crass pink tint of the comic heroine, and the dark hair replaced by a brash primary yellow, to signify the blonde ideal which Lichtenstein habitually used for his depictions of women.
Perhaps by presenting an altered reproduction of the Picasso masterpiece, a picture rendered ‘acceptable’ by the imagined hand of a philistine printer, Lichtenstein hoped to shock the viewer out of a lazy acceptance of ‘high art’. Viewed through the reducing prism of the tropes of popular culture, we can examine with renewed clarity the masterpiece we thought we knew.