EE sends me what might be every woman’s wish, here voiced in the form of pop art: Roy Lichtenstein’s print entitled “Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them?”
This print features this aphorism as well as two gorgeous blondes at a lady’s room mirror, fixing their hair, and wondering aloud about the ramifications of the late 60’s moon landing. EE asks, outside of the fact of the piece asking a GREAT question, what is the significance of the print? Is it a comic or something else?
There’s much interest in mid-century art. Roy Lichtenstein’s graphic images are often seen with art by Patrick Nagel. Nagel’s work features screen prints in flattened colors of seminude work-out girls from the 1970’s. Nagel’s work is not valued nearly as highly as Lichtenstein’s, for many good reasons, and an original print by Lichtenstein is valued in the six-figures.
Lichtenstein’s work turned comic book pixilation into a comment about what a work of art is allowed to be, and is popular because it spans print graphics and fine art. After mellowing for 50-years, it is considered expensive and iconic.
To see if EE has an original screen print, I would need to see the way the pigment is laid on that paper; it would be most valuable if it were signed and numbered.
As to the expression about men on the moon: most of Lichtenstein’s best work incorporates comic book-style one liners: today those one liners have a name: MEMES. And of course, I found a few sites devoted to the meme of the work she owns: Well, if they can put one man on the moon, why not all of them? One such meme site answers the question posed in EE’s print with a modern day answer: “If they put all men on the moon, we would have nothing to complain about.”
The importance of this piece was tied with the late 60’s moon landing. Almost 50 years after this event and the painting of it, Lichtenstein is still a controversial figure in art history. Arguably the first American pop artist to achieve worldwide fame (along with Warhol), his work was inspired by what was considered insipid comic strip material, and was called banal. Instead of copying, Lichtenstein’s canvases blend traditional mechanical print lithographic techniques with meticulous hand-painting.
A word on the art world before Lichtenstein: intellectuals painted in a style called Abstract Expressionism: as the name suggests, soulful abstracted colors and themes distanced the artists and the viewer from popular culture. Lichtenstein reversed the paradigm and brought popular culture to the forefront with all its garish vulgarity and surface decoration. This was a comment on how we consume art.
Anyone who has seen an original Lichtenstein up close will notice his painted dots, which mimicked print media such as illustrated tabloids. These, technically, are called “Ben-Day” dots: in EE’s work, these dots make up the whole of the image. Lichtenstein is asking: don’t we all see through a code? Is that code the very medium of a work of two-dimentional art? Or is that code the filter of common culture? His preferred medium, by the way, was a blend of the high and low: a blend of oil and synthetic polymer paint: itself a confusion of traditional and banal.
EE’s image from the 1960’s zooms in on one figure in a cartoon frame and creates a drama, albeit a comic one: two pretty blondes trivialize the moon landing in one age-old question: what if we didn’t have to live with men? Yet who are they dolling themselves up for in that lady’s room mirror? (Notice the well-upholstered 60’s push-up bra.) And notice the printed language in the artwork: that’s part of the code. The printed word, until Lichtenstein, was primarily reserved for the gallery label. Like so much in the mid-century world of consumerism, EE’s print is a comment on commercial art versus high art (in this case, regarding the earth-shattering moon shot), I should say cosmic art.
Until I see the work in person, EE, you don't have a comic book reprint. You have something much more significant.
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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