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Roy Lichtenstein

American Painter, Sculptor, and Lithographer

Movements and Styles: Pop Art, Postmodernism

Born: October 27, 1923 - New York, NY

Died: September 29, 1997 - New York, NY

Roy Lichtenstein Timeline

Quotes

"I'm interested in portraying a sort of antisensibility that pervades society .."
Roy Lichtenstein
"My use of evenly repeated dots and diagonal lines and uninflected color areas suggest that my work is right where it is, right on the canvas, definitely not a window into the world."
Roy Lichtenstein
"Visible brushstrokes in a painting convey a sense of grand gesture. But, in my hands, the brushstroke becomes a depiction of grand gesture. So the contradiction between what I'm portraying and how I am portraying it is sharp. The brushstroke became very important for my work."
Roy Lichtenstein
"There are certain things that are usable, forceful, and vital about commercial art."
Roy Lichtenstein
"All abstract artists try to tell you that what they do comes from nature, and I'm always trying to tell you that what I do is completely abstract."
Roy Lichtenstein
"When I have used cartoon images, I've used them ironically."
Roy Lichtenstein

"I'm never drawing the object itself; I'm only drawing a depiction of the object - a kind of crystallized symbol of it."

Roy Lichtenstein Signature

Synopsis

Roy Lichtenstein was one of the first American Pop artists to achieve widespread renown, and he became a lightning rod for criticism of the movement. His early work ranged widely in style and subject matter, and displayed considerable understanding of modernist painting: Lichtenstein would often maintain that he was as interested in the abstract qualities of his images as he was in their subject matter. However, the mature Pop style he arrived at in 1961, which was inspired by comic strips, was greeted by accusations of banality, lack of originality, and, later, even copying. His high-impact, iconic images have since become synonymous with Pop art, and his method of creating images, which blended aspects of mechanical reproduction and drawing by hand, has become central to critics' understanding of the significance of the movement.

Key Ideas

Art had carried references to popular culture throughout the twentieth century, but in Lichtenstein's works the styles, subject matter, and techniques of reproduction common in popular culture appeared to dominate the art entirely. This marked a major shift away from Abstract Expressionism, whose often tragic themes were thought to well up from the souls of the artists; Lichtenstein's inspirations came from the culture at large and suggested little of the artist's individual feelings.
Although, in the early 1960s, Lichtenstein was often casually accused of merely copying his pictures from cartoons, his method involved some considerable alteration of the source images. The extent of those changes, and the artist's rationale for introducing them, has long been central to discussions of his work, as it would seem to indicate whether he was interested above all in producing pleasing, artistic compositions, or in shocking his viewers with the garish impact of popular culture.
Lichtenstein's emphasis on methods of mechanical reproduction - particularly through his signature use of Ben-Day dots - highlighted one of the central lessons of Pop art, that all forms of communication, all messages, are filtered through codes or languages. Arguably, he learned his appreciation of the value of codes from his early work, which drew on an eclectic range of modern painting. This appreciation may also have later encouraged him to make work inspired by masterpieces of modern art; in these works he argued that high art and popular art were no different: both rely on code.

Most Important Art

Roy Lichtenstein Famous Art

Drowning Girl (1963)

In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein gained renown as a leading Pop artist for paintings sourced from comic books, specifically DC Comics. Although artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had previously integrated popular imagery into their works, no one hitherto had focused on cartoon imagery as exclusively as Lichtenstein. His work, along with that of Andy Warhol, heralded the beginning of the Pop art movement, and, essentially, the end of Abstract Expressionism as the dominant style. Lichtenstein did not simply copy comic pages directly, he employed a complex technique that involved cropping images to create entirely new, dramatic compositions, as in Drowning Girl, whose source image included the woman's boyfriend standing on a boat above her. Lichtenstein also condensed the text of the comic book panels, locating language as another, crucial visual element; re-appropriating this emblematic aspect of commercial art for his paintings further challenged existing views about definitions of "high" art.
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Roy Lichtenstein Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in New York City in a family with a German-Jewish background. He grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with his father Milton, a real-estate broker, his mother Beatrice, a homemaker, and his younger sister Renee. As a child, Lichtenstein spent time listening to science fiction radio programs, visiting the American Museum of Natural History, building model airplanes, and drawing. As a teenager he nurtured his artistic interests by taking watercolor classes at Parsons School of Design, and in high school he started a jazz band.

Early Training

In 1940, Lichtenstein began taking Reginald Marsh's painting classes at the Art Students League, producing work very similar to Marsh's social realist style. Later that year, Lichtenstein enrolled at Ohio State University (OSU), where he studied drawing and design along with botany, history, and literature. He created sculptural animal figures, as well as portraits and still life works influenced by the work of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. At OSU, Lichtenstein also took a class with Hoyt Leon Sherman, whose theories about the connection between vision and perception, or "organized perception," became important concepts for Lichtenstein as his work evolved.

In 1943, Lichtenstein was drafted into the Army. As part of his tour of duty, he took engineering courses at De Paul University in Chicago. He also served as a clerk and draftsman, enlarging army newspaper cartoons for his commanding officer. He then traveled with the Army to England, France, Belgium, and Germany. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, the artist returned to OSU to complete his Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts. The next year he joined the graduate program at the University and served as an art instructor. His art at this time was inspired by aspects of Abstract Expressionism and biomorphic Surrealism.

Roy Lichtenstein Biography

In the next several years his work was included in gallery shows, such as a group exhibition at the Ten-Thirty Gallery in Cleveland, where he met his future wife Isabel Wilson, the gallery assistant at Ten-Thirty. By this stage, his paintings featured musicians, street workers, and racecar drivers rendered in biomorphic shapes and in a style that recalled the Surrealist work of Paul Klee. Over the next several years, Lichtenstein's paintings featured birds and insects in this same Surrealist style, as well as medieval motifs, particularly imagery of knights and dragons. In addition to strictly two-dimensional paintings, Lichtenstein began nurturing what would become a long-standing interest in using multiple media; in his first solo show in New York, at Carlebach Gallery (1951), he exhibited three-dimensional assemblages of kings and horses made of wood, metal, and found objects.

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Roy Lichtenstein Biography Continues

Mature Period

After moving to Cleveland with Isabel, Lichtenstein took on a number of commercial engineering and drafting jobs. His work at this time focused on cowboy and Native American motifs; more significantly, he created a rotating easel to be able to easily paint from all angles. The method of working (the rotation of the canvas) was more compelling to Lichtenstein: "I paint my own pictures upside down or sideways. I often don't even remember what most of them are about... The subjects aren't what hold my interest." In 1952, John Heller Gallery in New York began representing his work. Lichtenstein took an assistant professor position at SUNY Oswego in 1957, where his thickly textured paint and abstracted imagery drew from the Abstract Expressionist style. Unlike the Abstract Expressionists, however, he began to incorporate figures into his canvases; some of his paintings featured characters such as Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse hidden among the other depicted forms. Lichtenstein continued to teach, moving on to Rutgers's Douglass College in 1960 as an assistant professor, where he met Allan Kaprow. Kaprow introduced Lichtenstein to Claes Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras, Robert Watts, George Segal, Robert Whitman and others who were integral members of the "happenings" art scene of the 1950s and 60s. The group produced unique performative art pieces that differed each time depending on audience involvement, but Lichtenstein was inspired by their interest in cartoon imagery.

In 1961, Lichtenstein created Look Mickey, his first cartoon work using Ben-Day dots, a commercial printing style for comic books or illustrations where small, closely spaced, colored dots are combined to create contrasting colors. He later exaggerated these dots in his paintings, a technique that came to define his style. The technique he developed at this time blended aspects of hand-drawing and mechanical reproduction; by 1963 he had settled on a procedure by which he first reproduced the chosen panel from a cartoon by hand, then projected the drawing using an opaque projector, traced it onto a canvas, then filled in the image with bold colors and stenciled Ben-Day dots.

Roy Lichtenstein Photo

In 1961, gallery owner Leo Castelli began representing Lichtenstein's work, giving him a solo exhibition in 1962 that substantially elevated the artist's renown and revenue. His fame did not come without controversy; his compositions outraged some viewers, and prompted LIFE Magazine to call him "one of the worst artists in America," albeit in a tongue-and-cheek fashion. Nevertheless, Lichtenstein soon began to show his work in major national exhibitions. In the 1960s, he continued using the Ben-Day dot technique in images of women and WWII combat scenes, as in Drowning Girl (1963), mostly adapted from issues of DC Comics. These cartoon-inspired paintings established Lichtenstein as an extremely prominent and immediately recognizable Pop art figure, both revered and reviled for his challenges to traditional understandings of "fine art."

By the mid 1960s, Lichtenstein began creating large-scale murals, his first of which was produced in 1964 for the World's Fair in Flushing, Queens. Moving beyond figural depictions, Lichtenstein also broadened his use of Ben-Day dots and bold, solid colors to depict landscapes, as in Yellow Landscape(1965). Such works often integrated industrial materials such as Plexiglas, metal, and a shimmery plastic called Rowlux, reflecting the artist's continued interest in using media beyond simply paint and canvas. Lichtenstein also began to create ceramic sculptures and, most iconically, produced a series of paintings of giant, cartoon-like brushstrokes covering the canvas, images which seemed to mock the Abstract Expressionists' use of the brushstroke as a signature and tool of individual expression. The second half of the 1960s also marked Lichtenstein's separation from his wife Isabel, and, a few years later, his marriage to Dorothy Herzka.

Lichtenstein began producing prints in 1962, using the offset lithograph technique that was more often used in commercial printing, and he began a long-term collaboration with the printmaking studio Gemini G.E.L. in 1969. In the 1970s, he left New York City for Southampton, where, inspired by Modern masters, he created still lifes and works with diverse textures and materials. Sculpture became an important focus during this time, particularly the use of bronze, which he used to produce large, painted sculptures of everyday objects such as lamps, pitchers, and steaming coffee cups. Lichtenstein also created a series of paintings involving mirrors, inspired by the historical use of mirror imagery in paintings to create a space beyond the canvas, as well as by the abstract designs used to symbolize mirrors in graphic art.

Late Period

By 1980, Lichtenstein was drawing from a wide variety of influences in his work, taking inspiration from Surrealism, Cubism, and German Expressionism, and using many different types of media. He re-established a studio in Manhattan and became more interested in Abstract Expressionism, as well as in Geometric Abstraction. He created a series of home interiors in the 1990s, basing his designs on ads in the Yellow Pages. Additionally, he continued to produce large paintings and sculptures for public spaces. In 1995, he received the National Medal of Arts. After his death in 1997, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation was established in 1999.


Legacy

Roy Lichtenstein played a critical role in subverting the skeptical view of commercial styles and subjects established by the Abstract Expressionists. By embracing "low" art such as comic books and popular illustration, Lichtenstein became one of the most important figures in the Pop art movement. While his paintings of cartoons and comics are his most recognizable work, he had a prolific and somewhat eclectic career that drew from Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism. But it is his re-imagining of popular culture through the lens of traditional art history that has remained a considerable influence to later generations of artists, as Pop art went on to significantly inform Postmodernism.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Roy Lichtenstein
Interactive chart with Roy Lichtenstein's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Reginald MarshReginald Marsh

Friends

Allan KaprowAllan Kaprow
Claes OldenburgClaes Oldenburg

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
CubismCubism
SurrealismSurrealism
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
HappeningsHappenings
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Years Worked: 1940 - 1997

Artists

Keith HaringKeith Haring
Damien HirstDamien Hirst
Jeff KoonsJeff Koons
Takashi MurakamiTakashi Murakami

Friends

Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Frederic TutenFrederic Tuten

Movements

Pop ArtPop Art
Neo Pop ArtNeo Pop Art

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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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Useful Resources on Roy Lichtenstein

Videos

Books

Websites

Audio

More

Lichtenstein at the Tate Modern (2013) ► 59:03 Lichtenstein at the Tate Modern (2013)

Overview of Artist
18k views

Diagram of an Artist: Roy Lichtenstein ► 9:04 Diagram of an Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

Good, short overview with rare footage - Tate Modern (2013)
61k views

Documentary (1991) ► 0:00 Documentary (1991)


views

Overview on CBS ► 5:55 Overview on CBS

Includes interview with youngest son, Mitchel Lichtenstein
138k views

More Interesting Videos with Roy Lichtenstein
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Roy Lichtenstein (1994)

Guggenheim Exhibition Catalogue
By Diane Waldman

paintings

Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New Recomended resource

By Eckhard Schneider

Lichtenstein: Girls

By Richard Hamilton, Jeff Koons, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Richard Prince

More Interesting Books about Roy Lichtenstein
NPR - 29 September 1997

Lichtenstein Obit

NPR - 4 October 2002 (interview originally from 1993)

Late American Artist Roy Lichtenstein

articles and reviews

Roy Lichtenstein: a new dimension in art

By Lucy Davies
The Telegraph
November 17, 2008

The Painter Who Adored Women

By Roberta Smith
The New York Times
June 11, 2008

Time Reveals the Delicacy Within Lichtenstein's Playful Pop

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
November 30, 2001

Roy Lichtenstein, Pop Master, Dies at 73 Recomended resource

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
September 30, 1997

More Interesting Resources about Roy Lichtenstein
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