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HEAD - YELLOW AND BLACK
48 x 48 in. 122 x 122 cm.
signed and dated 62 on the reverse
oil on canvas
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York (LC# 45)
Mr. & Mrs. Burton Tremaine, New York (acquired from the above in May 1962)
Dayton's Gallery 12, Minneapolis
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Ercole Lauro, Naples (acquired from the above in May 1973)
Christie's, London, December 1, 1981, lot 574
Carla Panicali, Italy
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 1982
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; Los Angeles, County Museum of Art; Minneapolis, Institute of Arts; Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Museum of Art; Waltham, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; Pittsburgh, Museum of Art, Carnegie Institute; Columbus, Gallery of Fine Arts; La Jolla, Art Center, Six Painters and the Object, March 1963 - May 1964, cat. no. 149
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Chiba, Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art; Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art; Umeda Osaka, Daimaru Museum; Kyoto, Daimaru Museum, Pop Muses: Images of Women by Roy Lichtenstein & Andy Warhol, August 1991 - March 1992, illustrated in color
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Pop Art, October 1992 - January 1993, cat. no. 102, pl. no. 36, p. 87, illustrated in color
Lisbon, Centro Cultural de Belem, The Pop 60's: Transatlantic Crossing, September - December 1997, cat. no. 26, p. 73, illustrated
Roslyn Harbor, NY, Nassau County Museum, The 1960's, June - September 1999
Robert Rosenblum, "Roy Lichtenstein and the Realist Revolt", Metro, no. 8, April 1963, no. 1, p.38-44, illustrated
Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein, New York, 1983, pl. no. 13, p. 20, illustrated in color
Exh. Cat., Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, The Tremaine Collection: 20th Century Masters, The Spirit of Modernism, 1984, p. 185, illustrated
Ernst A. Busche, Roy Lichtenstein Das Frühwerk 1942 - 1960, Berlin, 1988, fig. no. 136, p. 234, illustrated
Joanne Kesten, ed., The Portraits Speak: Chuck Close in Conversation with 27 of his Subjects, New York, 1997, p. 606, illustrated
Head - Yellow and Black is a masterful distillation of the many critical innovations of the early 1960s that established Roy Lichtenstein as a premier American artist of the last half of the 20th century. The new Pop Art aesthetic, one which essentially purloined imagery from the mass media and then amplified these pop culture sources onto canvas in a manner that denied, as much as possible, any record of the artist or his artistic intervention, was a sensational development in Modern art. Rather than depict the inner struggle of the creative process as it was celebrated in the heroics of Abstract Expressionism, Lichtenstein and other Pop artists chose to work with pre-existing reproductions of mundane objects or generic archetypes. More than any other of his fellow innovators, Lichtenstein's unique aesthetic style echoed and complimented the graphic source of his visual lexicon, as he adopted the strong sense of delineation and flattened picture plane of print media. Cool, detached renderings of images of mass-consumption that remained as close as possible to the original paradigm was as radical a moment in 20th century art as any other. Head -- Yellow and Black is a revelatory masterpiece created by the artist as he formulated new parameters within which he would revolutionize the boundaries of Fine Art, both in style and subject.
Head -- Yellow and Black beautifully demonstrates the two most basic tenets of Lichtenstein's art of the early 1960s -- his source material and the related graphic style. Even more intriguingly, the female of Head -- Yellow and Black encapsulates a variety of approaches Lichtenstein took for subject matter. In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein created `single-object' paintings concurrent with more narrative figure paintings derived from comic strips and advertising images. Head -Yellow and Black shares elements of both genres. Recognizing the growing power of the media to shape popular culture in post-World War II America, Lichtenstein used printed material as sources for his still-life paintings of single objects and his early cartoon paintings of romance and war comics. His notebooks were full of clippings of images borrowed variously from newspapers, magazines, telephone books and comic strips, and the generic American beauty of this early painting can be traced to all of these sources. As an unadorned single image, with limited palette and flat presentation, the female face of Head -- Yellow and Black is as isolated an image as the artist's early Pop paintings of single objects such as Ball of Twine (1963) and Golf Ball (1962). Clearly based on a generalized image of an American female, she is related to small clippings of female heads, with various hair-styles or hats that are pasted into the artist's notebooks. She is also related to the omnipresent advertising image of the homemaker, endorsing the many household, fashion and beauty products available in the abundant consumer culture of post-war America, as in the smiling homemaker of The Refrigerator (1962).
At the same time, Head -- Yellow and Black has the vaguely fraught expression of the female subjects Lichtenstein borrowed from romance comic strips for his most famous series of cartoon women. In comic strips, movies and beauty advertisements, women were portrayed as generic figures of romance and glamour. As Diane Waldman noted, ``Lichtenstein has singled them out as the dominant female stereotypes of the postwar era, the complement to the macho war heroes he portrayed in his paintings. They are products of a culture that puts celluloid glamour and consumer objects before human dignity and individual or collective achievement.'' (Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Roy Lichtenstein, 1993, pp. 113-117) Lichtenstein's women such as Head -- Yellow and Black are the blonde, blue-eyed cliché of American beauty, a perfect subject for stylized representation, yet Lichtenstein also portrayed his Women as expressing their emotions more openly than the war heroes who faced danger stoically. As in later romance paintings such as Happy Tears, The Nurse and Frightened Girl, all of 1964, the woman in a Lichtenstein painting is usually distressed, tearful or anxious. Even without the cartoon balloon to show us her thoughts, the viewer is drawn to the eyes in Head -- Yellow and Black, which have a steady sense of concentration and slight foreboding. Head -- Yellow and Black betrays an eerie resemblance to actress Janet Leigh's guarded expression in the presence of the disturbed Norman Bates of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960), the quintessential tale of a woman in peril. Hitchcock was known for his string of blonde and beautiful female protagonists, often self-possessed and remote. With the pert nose and attractive face of the American blonde beauty, the subsequent violence and danger that Hitchcock thrust on his heroines was that much more disturbing and shocking.
In transferring these images from Low to High Art, Lichtenstein adopted the graphic style of outlined contours and Benday dots from each medium as an ironic comment on the artifice of painting. Yet within this conceptual approach, he retained a tight artistic control on the composition, and Head -- Yellow and Black exemplifies Lichtenstein's remarkable eye for distilling image and content to amazing effect. From the crude codes for form and modeling in advertising, Lichtenstein distilled dot fields, black outlines and unshaded color, using them to contradict our impulse to lend the familiar object a three-dimensional reading. In his choice to retain the commercial techniques of advertising and comic art, Lichtenstein forces the viewer to acknowledge that the painting is a representation of a two-dimensional reproduction or ad, and not an illusion of the object itself. In his reductive palette of yellow and black -- perhaps a sly reference to Yellow Book telephone book pages -- Lichtenstein dematerialized the face as he did his black and white `single object' paintings of 1962 and 1963. The use of black Benday dot patterns further flattens the image to the background, melding the figure and ground into one planar dimension. The dark outlines define the object but betray no sense of shadows or modeling. Yet aesthetics abound in the composition. The cropping and placement of the head fills the canvas surface with perfect balance. The economy of contour for the nose, profile and lips, so elegantly and effortlessly delineated, is offset by the more baroque curved lines of the hair. The intense and intricate pattern of the blonde's tresses is as fluidly rich and ornamental as the opulent design of Lichtenstein's Large Jewels (1963, Museum Ludwig, Cologne). Ironically juxtaposed to the blonde's modest, simple pearl earring, her hair is rich, indulgent and volumetric by comparison. In Head -- Yellow and Black, Lichtenstein's genius for mastering the mechanics of impact is at its refined best, bringing a remarkable visual clout to a deceptively simple composition.