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Appropriation

Pop artists borrowed from popular culture, challenging notions of originality and what it means to be an artist.


Drowning Girl

Roy Lichtenstein
(American, 1923–1997)

1963. Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 67 5/8 x 66 3/4" (171.6 x 169.5 cm)

Roy Lichtenstein grounded his inventive career in imitation, beginning by appropriating images from advertisements and comic books in the early 1960s. The source for his painting, Drowning Girl, is “Run for Love!,” the melodramatic cover story of Secret Love #83, a DC Comics comic book from 1962. In the original illustration, the drowning girl’s boyfriend appears in the background, clinging to a capsized boat. Lichtenstein dramatically cropped the image, removing the boat and the boyfriend so that the girl appears alone and centered, her head circled by a vortex of water. He also shortened the first line in the dialogue balloon, which originally read “I don’t care if I have a cramp!”, to the more ambiguous “I don’t care!” In the second line, he changed the boyfriend’s name from “Mal” to “Brad.” Explaining the appeal of comic books, Lichtenstein said, “I was very excited about, and interested in, the highly emotional content yet detached, impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc. in these cartoon images.”

To make his painting appear mechanically produced, Lichtenstein painstakingly imitated the look of commercially printed images. Working by hand, he first copied the source image, altering its composition as he liked. He then projected and traced his sketch onto a canvas, outlining its figures and forms in black and filling in the images with primary colors or with patterns of repeating dots that replicated the Ben-Day dots commonly used in mass-printing processes.

1. A drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts; 2. Behavior or occurrences having melodramatic characteristics.

A rendering of the basic elements of a composition, often made in a loosely detailed or quick manner. Sketches can be both finished works of art or studies for another composition.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A work of art made from paint applied to canvas, wood, paper, or another support (noun).

A representation of a human or animal form in a work of art.

The subject matter or significance of a work of art, especially as contrasted with its form.

A closely woven, sturdy cloth of hemp, cotton, linen, or a similar fiber, frequently stretched over a frame and used as a surface for painting.

One of three base colors (blue, red, or yellow) that can be combined to make a range of colors.

A series of events, objects, or compositional elements that repeat in a predictable manner.

The shape or structure of an object.

In photography, editing, typically by removing the outer edges of the image. This process may happen in the darkroom or on a computer.

The arrangement of the individual elements within a work of art so as to form a unified whole; also used to refer to a work of art, music, or literature, or its structure or organization.

Colored dots (generally in four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) used to create shading and secondary colors in the mechanical reproduction of images.

The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.

As an artistic strategy, the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images, objects, and ideas.

Comic Inspiration
The original DC Comics image that Roy Lichtenstein appropriated for his art:

A Tony Abruzzo panel from "Run For Love" in Secret Hearts, no. 83 (November 1962)