Roy Lichtenstein was one of the pioneers of the Pop Art movement of the 1960s. He was born in New York City in 1923 and died in 1997. His father was a prosperous realtor. In 1939-1940, during his last year of high school, he studied at New York City's Art Students League with Reginal Marsh, an American scene painter. He then went to The Ohio State University to study art. His studies were interrupted by WW II and he served in the military from 1943 to 1946. After the war he continued his studies at Ohio State, where he obtained his B.F.A. and M.F.A. degrees.
Lichtenstein married in 1949 and taught at Ohio State from 1949 to 1951 as an assistant professor to support his family. He left Ohio State after being denied tenure for political reasons and worked as a commercial artist and window dresser in Cleveland from 1951 to 1957. From 1957 to 1960, Lichtenstein taught at the State College of New York in Oswego, where he began to work in the gestural style of abstract expressionism. There was little interest in his work at this time. He did, however, meet Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Claes Oldenburg through a colleague, Allen Kaprow. This group was developing new and radical ideas about art.
Lichtenstein began incorporating imagery from comic books in his abstract expressionist paintings. In 1960, one of his young sons pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and challenged his father to paint a picture as good as the image in the comic book. Lichtenstein produced a large picture of Donald Duck tugging a fishing pole whose hook is caught in his own pants seat and called it, "Look, Mickey, I've hooked a big one!" After this landmark painting, he began making pictures based on comics and advertisements painted in a commercial style using simple colors and Ben-Day dot backgrounds. Lichtenstein found the use of banal subject matter and kitschy icons comforting amid the constantly shifting patterns of American mass culture.
In 1962, Lichtenstein participated in two successful shows in New York City, one at the Castelli Gallery and the other at the Sidney Janis Gallery, titled "New Realism." These shows marked the beginning of Pop Art in the United States.
In 1963, Lichtenstein translated a Picasso and a Cezanne painting into his cartoon style using Ben-Day dots while preserving the original design. This began an interest in appropriating images from other artists, just as he appropriated the cartoon images, which continued throughout his career. Although not the first artist to do this, Lichtenstein's notion of appropriation, similar to that of Warhol's, had a profound affect on art of the latter part of the 20th century.
Sculpture became important to Lichtenstein in 1965 when he began working in ceramics, making cups and saucers, pitchers, and heads of comic-strip characters using half-tone screening with Ben-Day dots, heavy outlines, solid shadows in color and metallic highlights. Each object was treated in a two-dimensional, cartoon-like manner.
In 1965, Lichtenstein began a new series of paintings called Brushstrokes. These paintings poked fun at abstract expressionism by ironically presenting brushstrokes that appeared to be spontaneous and heavily impastoed expressions of energy while, in fact, they were meticulously painted using small brushes and a background of Ben-Day dots. As series of sculptures eventually evolved from this interest, most of these works were very two-dimensional but depict something three-dimensional. This is apparent in the series of sculptures titled Brushstrokes in Flight, one of which is located at the Columbus, Ohio airport.
A number of his paintings of the 1970s compositionally alluded to Cezanne, Matisse, Leger, and Mondrian but in his pop art style. During the 1980s and 90s he remained active as an artist, continuing earlier interests and exploring traditional artistic subjects such as the artists studio and other interiors.
He 1987, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany held retrospectives of his work.
Lichtenstein died of pneumonia in New York in 1997.
Page author: C.A.