Roy Lichtenstein was one of the most influential and innovative artists of the second half of the twentieth century. He is pre-eminently identified with Pop Art, a movement he helped originate.

Roy Lichtenstein was born in 1923 in New York City, USA, to a successful real estate broker father and homemaker mother who exposed Roy and his sister to museums, concerts and other aspects of New York culture from an early age. Lichtenstein showed artistic and musical ability early on and spent hours in New York museums.

After graduating from Franklin School for Boys in 1940, he attended Ohio State University in Columbus, USA, where he created sculptural animal figures as well as portraits and still life works influenced by Picasso. In 1943, Lichtenstein was drafted into the army where he served as a clerk and draftsman, enlarging newspaper cartoons for his commanding officer. After receiving an honourable discharge in 1946, he returned to OSU to complete his degree.

Roy Lichtenstein. Credit: lichtensteinfoundation.org

In the next several years, his work was included in gallery shows, such as the Ten Thirty Gallery in Cleveland where he met his future wife, Isabel. By this stage, his paintings featured musicians and street workers rendered into biomorphic shapes in a style similar to Surrealist artist, Paul Klee. Liechtenstein then started to draw birds and insects in the same style as well as medieval motifs such as knights and dragons. As with his most celebrated pop paintings, Lichtenstein gravitated towards what he would characterise as the ‘dumbest’ or ‘worst’ visual item he could find and then went on to alter or improve it.

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 coloured dots combined to create contrasting colours. He later exaggerated these dots in his paintings, a technique that came to define his style. 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 a projector, traced it onto canvas then filled the image with stencilled Ben-Day dots.

Look Mickey. Credit: lichtensteinfoundation.org

This unique style elevated his fame and revenue, but not without controversy. His compositions outraged some people calling him ‘one of the worst artists in America’. Nevertheless, Lichtenstein soon began showing his work in major national exhibitions. In the 60’s he continued using the Ben-Day dot technique of images of women in war such as the Drowning Girl (1963). These cartoons established Lichtenstein as an extreme prominent figure in Pop Art.

By the mid-sixties, Lichtenstein began creating large scale murals using the Ben-Day dots technique to depict landscapes such as Yellow Landscape (1965). Such works integrated industrial materials such as metal and shimmery plastic called Rowlux, reflecting the artist’s interest in using media beyond paint and canvas. By the seventies, Lichtenstein had moved on to other materials such as bronze to create sculptures of everyday objects such as lamps, pitchers and coffee cups.

Drowning Girl. Credit: lichtensteinfoundation.org

Lichtenstein carried on gathering inspiration from the media, even creating a series of home interiors in 1990 basing his designs on ads from the Yellow Pages. In 1995, he received the National Medal of Arts and after his death in 1997, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation was established assisting the development and education of the next generations of curators, critics and scholars. Roy Lichtenstien will be remembered for his ability to re-imagine popular culture through the lens of traditional art history that has remained a considerable influence to later generations.

 

Yellow Landscape Credit: lichtensteinfoundation.org

You can find current and upcoming Lichtenstein exhibitions on the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation website.

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