Corlett Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints of Roy Lichtenstein

I.4. Modern Head Series, 1970

Corlett 91–95

Alexei von Jawlensky’s (1864–1941) portrait heads, which Lichtenstein saw at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1968, became the point of departure for this series. In addition to five Modern Head prints, Lichtenstein produced two sculptures in the round and one relief between the fall of 1969 and the fall of 1970: Untitled Head I (brass), Untitled Head II (California English walnut), and Modern Head Relief (brass).

Having borrowed material from an industrial source in the 1960s with his use of Rowlux, Lichtenstein went a step further in this series, making significant use of technology borrowed from industry. For example, Gemini went to Angell Manufacturing in Los Angeles, fabricators of decorative metal trim, for the state-of-the-art technology used to produce the engraved, anodized aluminum necessary to achieve the machined look that Lichtenstein desired for RLCR 1885, Modern Head #4. The graphite of RLCR 1887, Modern Head #5 was embossed using a hydraulic press. This print series was also cited in an article about Ken Tyler's early use of handmade paper at Gemini G.E.L. (See Hughes 2019, pp. 5, 6 and 8.)

In a discussion with John Coplans regarding the Modern Head prints and sculptures, Lichtenstein noted:

I guess what interested me was—“what in the world a modern head could be about”—I mean to make a man look like a machine. It’s the machine quality of the twenties and thirties that interests me. Picasso and Braque in Analytical Cubism weren’t particularly interested in the machine aspect. 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. Then the fact that in the comics the rendition of a head, for instance, is so altered by the economics of printing. Dots, black lines, yellow hair, etc., are primarily the product of time-saving economies, thus the forms they take on are the product of the economics of printing. The art moderne idea of making a head into something that looks as if it’s been made by an engineering draftsman deals with industrialization and manufacture, which is what my painting has dealt with since ’61 or so. (Coplans 1970c, p. 264.)

(Corlett 2002, p. 111)