Recent Acquisition | Roy Lichtenstein’s “Modern Head #1”
Modern Head #1, 1970, woodcut on Japanese Hoshi paper, 24 x 19 inches (sheet size), edition of 100, signed, dated, and numbered in pencil
In 1961, Roy Lichtenstein introduced his now iconic style that appropriated imagery from commercial art, including advertisements and comics, rendered in a detached and deadpan manner. By the end of the decade, the seminal Pop artist would extend his source material to include works from the art historical canon. In one particular instance, Lichtenstein became inspired by Alexej von Jawlensky’s group of Constructivist paintings of heads, presented in the 1968 exhibition entitled, Serial Imagery at the Pasadena Art Museum. This influenced him to create his Modern Head series of 1970 that included five works in different printing techniques. Describing the subject matter, Lichtenstein said:
“I mean to make a man look like a machine. It’s the machine quality of the 1920s and 1930s that interests me…It got consciously much more that way in Léger’s painting and with the Futurists and Constructivists, the people portrayed becoming dehumanized by being related to machines. This relates strongly to comic book images, which are not machine-like but are largely the product of machine thinking.”
Lichtenstein collaborated with master printer Kenneth Tyler, then at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, to make the series. For Modern Head #1 in particular, they used the woodblock technique which would be Lichtenstein’s first foray into the medium and lone woodblock print for a decade. Rendered in primary colors and black, it is perhaps his most successful in the series as Lichtenstein meticulously orchestrated an interplay of vertical and horizontals, curves and straight edges, and dynamic and static forms. The result is a vigorous and handsome abstraction of Constructivist heritage with simple figurative elements most evident in simplified wavy hair, an eye, nose, mouth and bow tie at the bottom. The flattened, schematic forms, dots, and stripes, and bright, rich colors are all essential to Lichtenstein's visual effects and lend themselves to his machine and Constructivist aesthetic. Perhaps owing to this, the work is included in the collections of such institutions as the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and the de Young Museum in San Francisco.