Thinking of Him

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Thinking of Him, Roy Lichtenstein, 1963
By LIBBY ROHR

Everybody knows pop art. They may not know Fragonard, or Daumier, or Freidrich, but if you drop Warhol's name or Lichtenstein's, you're much more likely to get a response. At a primal level, people respond to bright colors and the beatification of images they recognize in a way that's almost comforting. Roy Lichtenstein's work takes the appropriation of the every day to a whole new level with his work. While working at Douglass College, a colleague and mentor Allan Kaprow advised him, "art doesn't have to look like art," a sentence that changed the nature of his career as an artist. In 1961, he painted his first borrowed image, featuring a scene of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fishing from his son's copy of Donald Duck: Lost and Found. He took the exact subject and added his own spin, slightly altering the perspective and doing the whole cartoon in stylized blocks of primary colors. He titled it Look Mickey, and with that, his new style was born.

Lichtenstein moved quickly from children's books to popular comics, taking the style of Benday dots used for commercial printing and engraving and incorporating them into his work. Many include melodramatic images of classically dressed and styled women, frequently crying over men. In 1963, he divorced from his wife, which likely inspired this series of subjects. The first in this trend, Drowning Girl, painted in 1963, sparked this trend in his work that would continue for the next decade or so. Like the comic books that inspired him, his figures had thick block outlines, and traditionally attractive features. For most of the 60's, he continued to work in the primary colors that defined his style so early on.  His work was designed to question what defined art, and to poke fun at the traditional ideas of art, especially the school of abstract expressionism that was so popular at the time. Many artists at the time believed that using images from something as low and common as a comic book was a type of artistic blasphemy, which only encouraged Lichtenstein. He took delight in poking fun at the status quo and society. His most dramatic pieces are painted in this same bright blocky style, teasing the nature of this melodrama as a form of entertainment, while continuing to "insult" traditional artists with his style.

Thinking of Him is the pinnacle of Lichtenstein. The same bright block colors that you so often see in his work, with the comic-inspired look and the subject we're all familiar with. The curvature of the lines helps to create a movement and a life for the characters that keeps such a blocky painting from stagnating. With the rounding of the subjects, the whole painting rotates in on itself towards the center. It leads your eyes to follow the never ending loop of human thought inside this emotional state. All of the lines on her face lead back to him in some way, from the arc of her nose, to the bend of her parted lips and the shape of her hair, everything takes the audience back to him, the same way he occupies her thoughts. He wears blue, surrounded by a blue cloud, separate from her entirely, except for the blue in her tears. Her sadness is the only thing left that connects her to him. Every girl who's been in a relationship has felt this sorrowful scene in one way or another. However, in Lichtenstein's typical flare, it's wrought with sarcastic undertones. Somehow, they don't discourage the audience even though he's mocking the viewer. It's a playful work, underneath the subject, that says, "You've felt that way, haven't you? Look how silly we humans are." It's in our nature to question and be curious and impish and Lichtenstein brings that out in us.

When I look at this painting, I'm struck at first with a remembrance of that grief in myself, but after a moment he gets me to laugh as I see the silliness in my own human nature. It offers a reprieve and a perspective in a moment of sadness that took me by surprise as I spent more and more time with Thinking of Him. The more time I spend with this work, the more I've come to respect it. It's a gift to take the power away from the heartache and for such a gift to exist inside of a first-rate work of art makes Lichtenstein all the more masterful.

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