New Art of the New Epoch: Bull Profile Series by Roy Fox Lichtenstein

Bull Profile Series by Roy Fox Lichtenstein is a composition of six prints created in 1973. Roy Lichtenstein is an outstanding figure of the American pop art. He became the pioneer of this trend and his works to great extend distinguished this trend when it started developing in the US. Together with Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein shaped out the appearance of the new art. He often turns to humor and parody  in his works. His works explore burning social and political themes and present new kind of art. Some of his works resemble book comics. “Lichtenstein selected his images from both popular and  art-historical sources… Lichtenstein was found of images that are clichés, borrowed images that he invested with humor and irony” (Sale, Betti, 18).  He looked for the new approaches and chose popular images to express his innovative ideas. .  Use of popular themes and images are distinguishing features of his artistic approach. “I take a cliche and try to organize its forms to make it monumental. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.” (Lichtenstein, cited in Monroe). Simplistic manner and popular themes help Lichtenstein express his ideas about art and its meaning in everyday life.

The Bull Profile Series is a composition of six different prints created by different media. All prints represent a bull, but the manner of representation is different. Six images show the shift from figurative representation to abstract one. The first print depicts a usual picture of the bull where the animal is depicted in usual manner. The last image contains the set of geometrical forms of different colors. All other prints depict this transition from the first till the last one. The author uses mixed media to show this transition, as well. The first print is made by line-cut on paper. It is black and white. For the second one the author uses lithograph and line-cut on paper. For the other four ones lithograph, screenprint and line-cut on paper are used. The change in media represents also development and transformation of the contemporary art. The works progress from older to newer technique of printmaking. The line-cut used for the first image was used for printing pictures in the newspapers. Other images are created with the help of more modern techniques.

The series echoes famous highly abstract images of bulls created by Pablo Picasso in 1945.  Lichtenstein and some other artists used themes and images from Picasso’s works to show their honor to this great master after his death. Picasso’s famous lithography called Bull is also a series of images of the bull which transform a detailed image of the bull to the most simplistic but sharp depiction of the first image. Pablo Picasso creates this series of images looking for the short and powerful way to pass the essence of the image.  Lichtenstein depicts another transformation. He is interested in the transformation of the art form and artistic means rather than in transformation of the image itself. For the Lichtenstein The Bull Profile Series becomes the way to illustrate the transformation of the contemporary art and the use of new means and forms of expression. The author shows how art and its functions transform along with the change of expressive means. He is interested in the transformation of different geometrical forms and use of colors.

The first image, Bull I  is the most figurative one. It depicts the figure of the bull. The work contains a lot of technical details. On the second image, Bull II, small details are omitted, background is added. The author also adds colors. The third image signifies the shift to abstraction. The bull is divided into geometrical forms and shapes. The figure of the bull is still well recognizable. Bull IV image is the combination of geometrical forms with certain details which help to recognize the bull. Small details, such as a curve symbolizing a tail and horns help the author to pass the very essence of the animal. The fifth and the sixth images are more abstractions and the author’s message is encoded in these images with the help of geometrical forms and colors.  These two images present sheer abstract forms and those who watch the pictures should put effort to understand the meaning.

Lichtenstein’s work gives a perfect example of abstract art. “Abstraction is an alteration of forms derived from observation or experience in such a way as to present essential rather than particular qualities”  (Sale, Betti  20). In his works, Lichtenstein follows the newest trends of the society and creates new form of art which reflects the tendencies of his time.

By his Bull Profile Series Lichtenstein has created a work of art about art. Bull Profile Series investigates transformation of the art means and transformation of the meaning and goal of art. The shift from representational to abstract forms of art does not only signify the change of artistic means and devices. It also signifies change in the vision of the role and function of art in general. Representation left the spectator no way to build personal interpretation of the art work. The message in this form of representation is vivid and clear. People who watch such work of art get a direct message from the author. Abstract forms of art encode information and the picture presents only certain keys, which the author manifests to the audience. Spectators have to collect these keys in order to decode the original message. Personal vision and interpretation create multiple variants when different people may see different messages in the same work of art. That is what Lichtenstein exactly illustrates with his Bull Profile Series. He shows the process of transformation and encoding. He illustrates how images and ideas are transformed in the mind of an artist. In the case with Bull Profile Series Lichtenstein explores the very art process and shows how images are created inside the artist. This work gives spectators an opportunity to trace transformations and changes of images which happen in the artist’s mind. Six images help to see how  usual image changes shapes and becomes an abstract object.

Bull Profile Series becomes an investigation of the way object pass in order to become abstractions. Simplistic and naïve manner of the author underline his attitude to art as a form of human life. Lichtenstein believed in people’s simple and primitive nature and his art objects also illustrate this attitude. “Underlying the irony is Lichtenstein’s conviction that all quests for higher meaning are absurd. He firmly believes that man is a primitive creature equipped for little more than ”survival in the jungle” and incapable of comprehending the purpose of life beyond the most elemental levels (Solomon). Lichtenstein uses simple and popular images to pass his ideas to the audience.  Despite such an attitude, the author uses simple image and clichés to encode important information and pass it to the audience. Like other abstract artists, he develops new type of relations with the audience. In contrast to conventional and traditional art, which makes a spectator a passive observer, abstract art makes a spectator a participant and a part of the art process. The objects of abstract art contain the message which is encoded by the author and this message can not be perceive without an effort from the spectator’s side. A spectator will not be able to receive the message from the author without certain effort. This effort should be performed in order to decode the message hidden in the work of art. The author does not give ready answers, but creates situations where people who watch an art object get an opportunity to get these answers. In this way, abstract art creates complex relations between the author and the spectator and in this process both participants take an active part. What is notable, despite the names of the images encoded in the abstract art objects mean same things for different people, the meaning of the objects may vary because each person will add something personal during the process of decoding or interpretation. Bull Profile Series by Lichtenstein is valuable because it shows the way real objects are changed and transformed into abstract images. This series gives an inner look into the art process and may help people understand the meaning and message of abstract art.  Abstract art does not have ready answers, but it can help spectators to activate their sensational and mental abilities and help them to get new ideas and realizations about things they see and feel.


Works Cited

Childs, Brian. “Deconstructing Lichtenstein: Source Comics Revealed and Credited”. Comics Alliance. 2011-02-02. Retrieved 2015-02-11.

Monroe, Robert (1997-09-29). “Pop Art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein dead at 73”.Associated Press. Retrieved 2015-02-11.

Solomon, Deborah. “The Art Behind The Dots”. The New York Times. March 8, 1987. Retrieved 2015-02-11.

Teel Sale,Claudia Betti Drawing: A Contemporary Approach, Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.

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