A pink skin, a red, white, and blue striped ribbon in blonde hair, Bambi eyes and sophisticated attitude: this could seem at first glance the description of the Girl with Hair Ribbon by Roy Lichtenstein. But there is always something that remains elusive in the artist’s feminine portraits and that magnetically attract the gaze of the viewer, too.
Lichtenstein created this well-known artwork in 1965, a year that consecrated his popularity worldwide. During this prolific time, the artist’s practice focused uniquely on comics as an inspirational source. This popular imagery was common among Pop artists, which revolutionary brought the cheap visual culture of advertising and everyday life in museums, but the bond between Lichtenstein and comics was even tighter. He appropriated comic images but transposing it, as an act of decontextualization and social critic.
Girl with Hair Ribbon perfectly typifies this creative process. Sheis not a mere copy of an image taken from a cartoon, the picture maintains its recognizable features and it is parallelly creatively manipulated. The artist focused on the details of her face, increasing her proportions, and colouring it with his iconic, meticulous, Ben-Day dots, a technique derived from newspapers and reproduced by hand. The result is a vivid painting with its peculiar aesthetics, far from the controversies about the unoriginality and plagiarism of its author.
Despite this, there is something that still seems contradictory in this artwork; the mechanical technique used Lichtenstein does not seem to fit very well with the melancholic expression of the protagonist. In his close-ups of women, the artist through his cold method always keeps a distance from the emotions of the depicted girls.
The Girl with Hair Ribbon, as it happens in the most popular Crying girl and Drowning girl, seems to experience a moment of distress and confusion, but she is frozen, in an aseptic and unemotional frame. We can observe her attractiveness merely through the stereotypes of 60s American society, as she embodies its perfect, anonym, feminine standards, but we cannot take our eyes off her wistful gaze. In this fragment, the viewer is led to wonder the story of this sad girl, like she is still involved in the scene of the comic from where she has been taken out.
The zoom on her expression is not random: despite her flawless aspect, the Girl seems totally uncomfortable and deceived. Lichtenstein chose her pensive and insistent glance, and doing so he portraited not only the stereotyped 60s femininity but also the pressure of being a woman in these times. Girl with Hair Ribbon is not explicitly suffering for her limited social condition like other Pop art weeping girls, but she stares, melancholy, at the viewer.
Building a serious eye-contact with who is watching her, she seems to ask for help or to resignedly blame him. She embodies in an icon the agency of women of 60s, which just asked to be heard. Girl with Hair Ribbon’s demands “to be seen”, and it is impossible to ignore her. Even sixty years later, we must support her gaze.