Corlett Catalogue Raisonné of the Prints of Roy Lichtenstein

I.21. Nudes Series, 1994

Corlett 282–290

Lichtenstein began work on collages for the Nudes series in his New York studio during the spring of 1993. In December of that year he hand-cut the Rubylith stencils for the key (outline) relief plates for each image, and in February 1994 he made his first visit to the Tyler Graphics workshop for this project.

Most of the plates used to print the series were assembled using an aluminum, or in some cases Lexan—a rigid, thick plastic—base plate on which were mounted the irregularly shaped photopolymer plastic pieces that created the image areas. The key (outline) plates, with one exception, were made of an irregularly shaped magnesium plate mounted onto a base plate. (For one key plate, the irregularly shaped plate was made of plastic.)

Swan Engraving generated the dots and canvas patterns by computer (for the first time with Lichtenstein’s work), using these to make dye-cut stencils and positive film that could be transferred to the photopolymer for processing and printing. Tyler’s printers hand-cut the stencils for the remaining shapes and stripes. Once processed and mounted onto the base plates, the raised surfaces of these irregularly shaped pieces were inked and then printed using a flatbed offset printing press.

Based on “love” and “girl” comic-book illustrations, not live models, these were the artist’s first images of the subject. Soon thereafter he explored the theme in his painting. The series, which consists of six images and three states, also contains iconographic references to others of his earlier works: the Mirrors, Imperfects, Water Lilies and Interiors.

Lichtenstein had often before used variable-sized dots in his images. In his prints they can be found as early as the Peace Through Chemistry series (1970), and also in the Mirror series (1972), Entablature series (1976), Untitled Shirt (1979), Imperfect series (1988), Tel Aviv Museum Print (1989), Reflections series (1990), Interior series (published 1991), and several others. But the dots in the Nudes series have a new characteristic, creating an undulation of light and space by flowing over several objects at a time, rather than being contained within the boundaries of a single object or outline. The dots function as both a two-dimensional pattern (overlay) and as a suggestion of three-dimensional space and form. As Lichtenstein told David Sylvester in 1997: “It’s a little bit the way chiaroscuro isn’t just shadows but a way of combining the figure and the background, or whatever’s near it in a dark area . . . . You’re not confined to the object pattern, but the subject matter excuse for this is that it’s a shadow. And that’s interesting to me.” (See Sylvester 1997b, reprinted in Sylvester 1997c, p. 38.)

Lichtenstein is quoted in a newspaper article in November 1994 as having said that the nude form itself is “a good excuse to contrast undulating and volumetric form with rigid geometry" (Hurlburt 1994). This same contrast of undulation and rigidity can be seen in the dot patterns themselves, which cause the picture space seemingly to undulate forward and away from the picture plane, while at the same time each dot is a precise geometric circle.

One final note regarding the method used to arrive at the total number of colors in a given print: because the same ink, when printed in two runs that overlap, will produce a different color in the overlapping areas, Tyler Graphics counts each run as a separate color, even though only one ink was used. As the workshop’s Barbara Delano has explained: “Our general rule is to count even the same color if it appears in another run and overlaps because it will change the resulting layer color slightly. (In fact, the subtlety of printmaking is the buildup of color layers.) If you look at the print, you can see the difference in the areas where the (colors) are different because of the overlapping buildup. Not only does it build up the surface density of the color, but it also sits differently in the fibers of the paper.” (Letter to Corlett, January 22, 1999.) However, for the entries in the second edition of the Prints catalogue raisonné (Corlett 2002), the decision was made to base the color count on the actual number of different-colored inks used, so that the method used to count the colors would remain consistent for all entries throughout the catalogue. This is why, in some case, one will find discrepancies in the number of colors when comparing the catalogue raisonné entries to the workshops’ documentation.

(Corlett 2002, p.253)