By Joe Alexander
Looking at the art of Jessica Lichtenstein, one is transported into an imaginary world of childlike hedonism. The colors bombard you with a familiar sense of happiness, the thick acrylic glimmers back at you like a diamond on display, and the girls well…they smile at you, seducing you from behind an optical lens as you voyeuristically “peep” into their candy colored landscapes. But as always, there is more behind that lens than meets the eye.
Lichtenstein began her journey as an artist at Yale University where she studied art, art history and English literature. Often compared to the contemporary artists Jeff Koons and Murakami, Lichtenstein says she draws her inspiration from the classic masters. Her current series of work entitled “word sculptures” examines the pornographic world of Japanese-inspired comic books. Creating her own imagined fantastical landscapes infused with a highly sexualized environment, Lichtenstein places these appropriated heroines into scenes that are reminiscent of Renoir’s, Cezanne’s or Picasso’s “nude bathers”; scenes that harken back to a time of “female as muse”.
Last month Vered Gallery in East Hampton opened their summer season with a solo show of Lichtenstein’s work aptly called “PEEP SHOW”. It’s namesake, a piece entitled PEEP is a voyeuristic tour-de-force. Languidly swimming underwater, the girls in the piece are encapsulated in a graphic aquarium or fish tank. As the viewer walks around this piece, they literally need to peep their heads around barriers of plexiglass that obscure some of these girls from their full obvious exposure. And as you move your head left and right, up and down, trying to see all that is tantalizingly hidden from you, you become aware of the girls in the piece coyly smiling back at you, defiantly and confidently, cognizant of their rolls as trophies or treasures that are put on display.
Of the show, Lichtenstein said, “I wanted to draw attention to the way that we gaze at the naked female body, and equate it to the way we view other beautiful objects surrounding us. So the girls in PEEP blend into the colorful coral in the background, the girls in another piece called BLISS are blended into, and almost become indistinguishable from, the colorful flowers that they are blossoming from. So even though these girls are appropriated from a more pornographic world, putting them in this context may cause the viewer to confront their own potentially discordant reactions to these hypersexualized images.”
Lichtenstein’s work will be on display this summer at gallery nine5 in New York City, Vered Gallery in East Hampton and in a group show at Galerie Maximillian in Aspen called “Words: Language in Contemporary Art,” featuring other artists such as Richard Prince and Ed Ruscha. Her work is already in some of the homes of the most important international art collectors. •