Kahlo’s painting Self Portrait with Cropped Hair (1940) and Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl (1963) both use emotive techniques in order to convey more subtle feelings. While Lichtenstein employed a more bold look to his female subject, Kahlo uses a formal stance in her self-portrait, but both give the viewer the idea of sorrow being the center subject behind these female figures. Kahlo’s self portrait shows a woman on a chair (presumably Kahlo) with the cut pieces of her hair scattered all about her.
This use of the hair being all around the main figure gives the viewer the impression of a battle – that Kahlo lost. Hair is a metaphor in the painting – a metaphor of peace or strength. In the bible the symbol of hair can be found in the story of Samson and Delilah in which Samson got his strength from his hair, and the prostitute Delilah cut it all off thereby rendering the hero useless. If then, Kahlo’s hair is her strength it is almost as though the viewer is peering on to a death sentence of the woman.
The death sentence in Lichtenstein’s work is much more blatant as the drowning girl states in her bubble “I’d rather sink than call Brad for help” which coordinates this theme of desperation and sorrow. The stance of either female in their respected representations are opposite: Lichtenstein gives his subject a subdued and hopeless stance being already almost entirely submerged in the water and thereby closer to death while in Kahlo’s painting, although nearly all of her hair is spread about her in a form of defeat, the figure stands in erect position rather in a stance of having lost the battle.
There is distinctly more depth present in Kahlo’s painting, with the cut hair scattered on the ground and the angles of the chair making the viewer fell as though they are peering into this event. In Lichtenstein’s work the viewer is given a close up of the woman who doesn’t allow for much depth to be viewed – but in classic Lichtenstein technique, his use of flat planes further develop this loss of field of depth.
This is perhaps a metaphoric sense of depth since Kahlo’s portrait is subtle and the viewer has to read into the subject and the subtler emotions involved in the work while in Lichtenstein’s work the viewer merely has to read what the girl says in order to understand everything about the painting in one glance. With a second glance at the figure in Kahlo’s work (and with the history of her recent divorce from her unfaithful husband Diego Rivera) the viewer may guess that this cutting of the hair is symbolic of Kahlo’s state of emotions.
Perhaps she is shedding the part of herself that Diego had claimed as Kahlo has said of her art, “I do not know if my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most frank expression of myself. ” (Kahlo). Thus, in cutting of her hair (presumably he loved long haired women) she is making a claim of self identity away from her cheating husband and thereby the painting becomes transformed into a woman losing hair, into a woman gaining her identity. The top of Kahlo’s painting even states as much in saying, “”Look, if I loved you it was because of your hair.
Now that you are without hair, I don’t love you anymore. “” Lichtenstein’s portrait of a woman who is also in the bad end of love also has a small bit of this identity. She states that she would rather die than have Brad come and help her, but the viewer wonders, why doesn’t the woman try and save herself? The depth that is lacking in the field of vision with Lichtenstein’s work is replaced by a depth into personality of the woman. A psychologist might argue that the woman has an Ophelia complex (from Hamlet) in which she would rather die than live without her lover.
In either instance, it is clear that both artists are trying to depict an emotional state in which love is the cause of the effects. Lichtenstein’s work is predominately innovated through DC comics (a panel of which inspired The Drowning Girl). His use of Benday dots emphasize a stylistic approach. Kahlo’s art is more surreal in nature and symbolic in style as is evident in Self Portrait with Cropped Hair. In surrealistic style, Kahlo allows the interchange of gender to play a dominate role in the painting.
The figure, Kahlo herself, is dressed in men’s slacks and a shirt, thus allowing the short hair to almost define her in a masculine capacity. In Lichtenstein’s work the gender of the painting is quite clear with the woman showing attributes a helpless woman drowning in the water as well as in love. This woman relinquishes her control over her fate in a rather docile component of femininity (the viewer is reminded of the big bosomed females in horror movies who run from the monster in drastic steps only to fall in their high heels and be destroyed by their pursuer).
In Kahlo’s painting, perhaps because of this gender bending idea, the woman becomes like a man, that is, able to survive, or, in comparison, she becomes the pursuer and thereby strong. In opposition to the bible story then, Kahlo does not in fact become weak in losing her hair, but rather the painting is meant to suggest that she becomes strong in this shedding of hair, and husband.
In either painting it is clear that both artists are interested in the psychology of their subject. In the DC comic world by which Lichtenstein gained inspiration, women were somewhat helpless creatures in the 1960’s only gaining a feminine stance in the 1980’s or so. His vision of women through his portrait gives the viewer the idea that without love, a woman does not have an identity, and thus, death is a logical substitute to not having a ‘Brad’.
In Kahlo’s painting the same may be deciphered; she allows her femininity to surround her on the ground in the form of her hair, and her transformation into a man makes her stronger. It is then interesting to note the decades which lie between either painting – it may be said that Kahlo was progressive with her painting style and her representation of women (perhaps taking note of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in which the protagonist cannot live in a man’s world and thus drowns herself in an act of freedom).
It is clear that in both artworks there are strong emotions which propel the subjects into the places they stand before the viewer. The emotional journey has come to an end in either painting or the female figures either claim their identities (in the case of Kahlo) or they become submerged in a world where they cannot live without love (in the case of Lichtenstein). The psychology of the main characters becomes evident through the artists’ rendering through the use of space, script, and symbolism.
Alloway, Lawrence, Roy Lichtenstein, N. Y. : Abbeville, 1983 759. 1 L701A Claudia Bauer, Frida Kahlo, Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2005. Frida Kahlo, ed. Elizabeth Carpenter, exh. cat. , Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2007 759. 972 K12FR Gannit Ankori, Imagining Her Selves: Frida Kahlo’s Poetics of Identity and Fragmentation, Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2002. Hayden Herrer, Frida Kahlo: The Paintings, N. Y. : Harper Collins, 1991.
759. 072 K12H Lobel, Michael, Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002. Pop Art: A Critical History, Steven H. Madoff, ed. , Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1997 709. 73 P8242 Waldmann, Diane, Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat.. , N. Y. : Guggenheim Museum, 1993. 759. 1 L701WAL Whiting, Cecile, A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender and Consumer Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Topic: An Analysis of Psychology in Art
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