Roy Lichtenstein (October
27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was a prominent American pop artist, his work heavily
influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style.
He himself described
as, "not 'American' painting but
actually industrial painting".
Lichtenstein, was born on October 27, 1923 into an
upper-middle-class New York
City family, and attended public school until the age of
He then enrolled at Manhattan's Franklin School for
Boys, remaining there for his secondary education. Art was not
included in the school's curriculum; Lichtenstein first became
interested in art and design as a hobby. He was an avid jazz
fan, often attending concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
He would frequently draw
portraits of the musicians playing their instruments. After
graduation from Franklin, Lichtenstein enrolled in summer classes
at the Art Students
League of New York
, where he worked under the tutelage of
Lichtenstein then left New York to study at
the Ohio State
University which offered studio courses and a degree in fine
His studies were interrupted by a three year stint in
the army during and after World War II
between 1943 and 1946. Lichtenstein returned home to visit his
dying father and was discharged from the army under the G.I. Bill
. Returning to
studies in Ohio under the supervision of one of his teachers,
Hoyt L. Sherman
, who is widely regarded to have had
a significant impact on his future work (Lichtenstein would later
name a new studio he funded at OSU as the Hoyt L. Sherman
Studio Art Center).Lichtenstein entered
the graduate program at Ohio State and was hired as an art instructor, a post he held
on and off for the next ten years. In 1949 Lichtenstein
received a M.F.A. degree from the Ohio State University and in the same year married Isabel Wilson
Wilson was previously married to Ohio
artist Michael Sarisky. In 1951 Lichtenstein had his first one-man
exhibition at Carlebach Gallery in New York.
to Cleveland in the same year, where he remained for six years,
although frequently traveling back to New York.
jobs as varied as a draftsman to a window decorator in between
periods of painting. His work at this time fluctuated between
and Expressionism.In 1954 his first
son, David Hoyt Lichtenstein, now a songwriter, was born. He then
had his second son, Mitchell
in 1956.In 1957 he moved back to upstate New York and began
It was at this time that he adopted the
a late convert to this style of painting.
Rise to fame
Lichtenstein began teaching in upstate New
York at State University of New York at
Oswego in 1958.
However, the brutal upstate winters
were taking a toll on him and his wife.
he started teaching at Rutgers University where he was heavily influenced by Allan Kaprow, also a teacher at the
This environment helped to reignite his interest
in Proto-pop imagery.In 1961 Lichtenstein began his first Pop
paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from the
appearance of commercial printing. This phase would continue to
1965 and included the use of advertising imagery suggesting
consumerism and homemaking.His first work to feature the large-scale
use of hard-edged figures and Benday
Dots was Look Mickey (1961, National
Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).
This piece came from a
challenge from one of his sons, who pointed to a Mickey Mouse
comic book and said; "I bet you
can't paint as good as that, eh, Dad?" In the same year he produced
six other works with recognizable characters from gum wrappers and
cartoons.In 1961 Leo
Castelli started displaying Lichtenstein's work at his gallery
Lichtenstein had his first one-man show at
the Castelli gallery in 1962; the entire collection was bought by
influential collectors before the show even opened. In September 1963 he
took a leave of absence from his teaching position at Douglass College at Rutgers.
It was at this time, that Lichtenstein began to find fame not just
in America but worldwide. He moved back to New York to be at the
center of the art scene and resigned from Rutgers
University in 1964 to concentrate on his painting.
Lichtenstein used oil and Magna paint
his best known works, such as Drowning Girl
was appropriated from the lead story in DC
' Secret Hearts
Girl now hangs in the Museum of
Modern Art, New York.) Also featuring thick outlines, bold colors and
Benday Dots to represent certain colors,
as if created by photographic
Lichtenstein would say of his own work:
Abstract Expressionists "put things down on the canvas and
responded to what they had done, to the color positions and sizes.
My style looks completely different, but the nature of putting down
lines pretty much is the same; mine just don't come out looking
calligraphic, like Pollock's or Kline's."
Rather than attempt to reproduce his subjects, his work tackled the
way mass media
Lichtenstein would never take himself too seriously however: "I
think my work is different from comic strips- but I wouldn't call
it transformation; I don't think that whatever is meant by it is
important to art". When his work was first released, many art
critics of the time challenged its originality. More often than not
they were making no attempt to be positive. Lichtenstein responded
to such claims by offering responses such as the following: "The
closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and
critical the content. However, my work is entirely transformed in
that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my
paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to
prove it by any rational line of argument".
His most famous image is arguably Whaam! (1963, Tate Modern, London ), one of
the earliest known examples of pop art,
adapted a comic-book panel from a 1962
issue of DC Comics' All-American Men of War
The painting depicts a fighter aircraft firing a rocket
into an enemy plane, with a red-and-yellow explosion. The cartoon
style is heightened by the use of the onomatopoeic
and the boxed caption "I pressed the
fire control... and ahead of me rockets blazed through the
is large in scale,
measuring 1.7 x 4.0 m (5 ft 7 in x 13 ft 4 in).
Most of his best-known artworks are relatively close, but not
exact, copies of comic-book panels, a subject he largely abandoned
in 1965. (He would occasionally incorporate comics into his work in
different ways in later decades.) These panels were originally
drawn by such comics artists as Jack
and DC Comics
artists Russ Heath
, Tony Abruzzo, Irv Novick
, and Jerry Grandenetti
, who rarely received any
credit. Jack Cowart
, executive director
of the Lichtenstein Foundation, contests the notion that
Lichtenstein was a copyist, saying: "Roy's work was a wonderment of
the graphic formulae and the codification of sentiment that had
been worked out by others. The panels were changed in scale, color,
treatment, and in their implications. There is no exact
his first museum retrospective exhibition was held at the Pasadena Art
Museum in California.
Also in this year his first
solo exhibition in Europe was held at museums in Amsterdam, London,
Bern and Hannover.He married his second wife, Dorothy Herzka in
In the 1970s and 1980s, his work began to loosen and expand on what
he had done before. He produced a series of "Artists Studios" which
incorporated elements of his previous work. A notable example
being Artist's Studio, Look Mickey (1973, Walker Art
Center, Minneapolis) which incorporates five other previous works,
fitted into the scene.
late 1970s, this style was replaced with more surreal works such as Pow Wow (1979,
Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst, Aachen).
In 1977, he was commissioned by BMW
to paint a
Group 5 Racing Version of the BMW 320i
the third installment in the BMW Art
addition to paintings, he also made sculptures in metal and plastic
including some notable public sculptures such as Lamp in
St. Mary’s, Georgia in 1978, and over 300 prints, mostly in screenprinting.
His painting Torpedo...Los!
sold at Christie's
for $5.5 million in 1989, a record sum
at the time, making him one of only three living artists to have
attracted such huge sums.
Gallery of Art in Washington DC became the largest single repository of the
artist's work when he donated 154 prints and 2 books.
total there are some 4,500 works thought to be in
He died of pneumonia
in 1997 at New York
University Medical Center.
He was survived by his second wife Dorothy and by his sons, David
, from his first
marriage.The DreamWorks Records
logo was his last completed project.
His Crying Girl
was one of the artworks
brought to life in Night at the
Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
continues to influence the 21st
century. Lichtenstein and Andy
Warhol were used in U2's 1997, 1998 PopMart Tour and in an exhibition in 2007 at
the British National Portrait Gallery.
Among many other works of art destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks
September 11, 2001, a painting from Roy Lichtenstein’s The
Entablature Series was destroyed in the fire.
National Medal of the Arts, Washington D.C.
Kyoto Prize, Inamori Foundation,
- 1993 Amici de Barcelona, from Mayor Pasqual Maragall, L’Alcalde de
Creative Arts Award in Painting, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts.
American Academy in Rome,
Artist in residence.
American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York.
Skowhegan Medal for Painting, Skowhegan School, Skowhegan, Maine.
Selection of museums showing Lichtenstein's work
Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids MI (USA)
Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo NY (USA)
- Allen Art Museum, Oberlin OH (USA)
- Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk VA (USA)
- National Gallery, Washington DC (USA)
- Tate Modern (UK)
- National Portrait Gallery (UK)
- Frankfurt Museum of Modern Art (D)
- Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis (USA)
- New York Museum of Modern Art (USA)
- Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (NL)
- Ludwig Museum, Cologne (D)
- Castelli Gallery, New York (USA)
- Guggenheim Museum, New York (USA)
- Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
- Hirshhorn Museum, Washington DC (USA)
- Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee (USA)
- Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa (USA)
- Los Angeles County
Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, California (USA)
- Museum of
Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, California (USA)
- Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado (USA)
Further reading and viewing
- Roy Lichtenstein by Janis Hendrickson - ISBN
- The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein: A Catalogue Raisonné
1948-1997 by Mary L. Corlett - ISBN 1-55595-196-1
- Roy Lichtenstein (Modern Masters Series, Vol.
1) by Lawrence Alloway - ISBN 0-89659-331-2
- Roy Lichtenstein Interview with Chris Hunt Image
Entertainment video, 1991
- Roy Lichtenstein Interview with Melvyn Bragg
- Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde,
1957-1963 - Ed. Joan Marter - ISBN 0-8135-2609-4
- Roy Lichtenstein's ABC's by Bob Adelman - ISBN
- Roy Lichtenstein Drawings and Prints 1970 Chelsea
House publishers, introduction by Diane Waldman