In the Mirror with Lichtenstein

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Joseph Mohan
August 17, 2012

Large painting of irregular vertical bands of varying patters in yellow, maroon, and black.
Mirror #3 (Six Panels), 1971
Roy Lichtenstein

Lichtenstein often sought to portray the world as it’s portrayed to us, not as it actually is. This was his approach as he embarked on a series of paintings of mirrors, starting in 1969. Recreating a mirror in paint is a curious task. A mirror only looks like whatever it’s facing, so how does one convey its appearance without creating a painting of something else? Lichtenstein wasn’t put off by these complications. He employed his by-then signature visual language of dots, flat blocks of color, and boldly graphic lines and curves to give the impressions of the light and color seen in reflective surfaces. Lichtenstein, known as a pretty witty dude, also likely enjoyed creating a representation of an object with one use—reflecting—that reflects nothing at all.

There are critical and historical aspects to Lichtenstein’s exploration of mirrors, too. By tackling the subject, he placed himself in a long line of painters—Manet, Picasso, Velázquez—who incorporated mirrors into their work as a way of showing off their skill as painters. By creating paintings with the same essential shape, form, and size as the objects they represent, he also positioned himself alongside contemporary artists like Jasper Johns, whose flag paintings achieved a similar goal, or Frank Stella, whose shaped canvases blurred the distinction between painting and sculpture.

—Joseph Mohan

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