Born October 27, 1923 in New York, NY; died of pneumonia, September 29, 1997, in New York, NY; son of Milton (a realtor) and Beatrice (Werner) Lichtenstein; married Isabel Wilson, June 12, 1949 (divorced); married Dorothy Herzka, November 1, 1968; children: (first marriage) David, Mitchell. Education: Ohio State University, B.F.A., 1946, M.F.A., 1949. Religion: Judaism.
Painter, printmaker, and sculptor. Among his best-known works are Look Mickey!, The Engagement Ring, and Girl with Ball, 1961; Blam! and Kiss II, 1962; Drowning Girl, 1962; Sinking Sun, 1964; Yellow and Red and Brushstrokes, 1966; The Great Pyramid and Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Five Different Times of the Day), 1969; Purist Painting with Pitcher, Glass, Classical Column, 1975; Self-Portrait, 1978; Two Paintings: Radiator and Folded Sheets, 1983; Interiors, 1990s. Taught at Ohio State University, 1949-51, State University of New York (SUNY), Oswego, 1957-60, and Douglass College, Rutgers University, 1960-63. Exhibitions: One-man shows include: Carlebach Gallery, New York, NY, 1951, Leo Castelli Gallery in New York, NY, beginning in 1962; Pasadena Art Museum, CA, 1967; Tate Gallery, London, England, 1968; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1969; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, 1970; Centre National D'Arte Contemporain, Paris, France, 1975; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, 1987; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1988; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY, 1993; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, 1999; and Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL, 2002, among others. Lichtenstein's work also appeared in numerous group exhibitions; his works are in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Detroit Institute of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Tate Gallery, London; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands; Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany; and the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Pasadena, CA. Military service: U.S. Army, served in 69th Infantry Division, 1943-46; reached the rank of private first class with a medal for Meritorious Service.
Skowhegan Medal for painting, 1977; honorary degrees from California Institute of the Arts, 1977, Ohio State University, 1988, and Bard College, 1989.
Roy Lichtenstein was, as Robert Hughes noted in Time magazine, "a postmodernist before the term got going." The artist, as much identified with the American Pop art movement as was Andy Warhol, "realized that in art, though style may not be everything, everything is style," according to Hughes. Famous for his gigantic pastiches on scenes from comic books and comic strips, Lichtenstein left such pictures behind in 1965, thereafter concentrating on numerous other styles and media from Abstract Expressionism to sculpture. As Elizabeth C. Baker noted in Art in America at the time of the artist's death in 1997, Lichtenstein had "produced an enormous—and enormously influential—body of work in the thirty-five years since he gained public recognition." Baker further explained, "As one of the principal inventors of Pop art, he changed not only art's visual language, but also its social frame of reference. He played an unusual double role—he developed an avant-garde style that was intellectually challenging and culturally disruptive, yet his work was also accessible to a broad public." As Lichtenstein was fond of saying, "I wanted to do things you were not supposed to do. To say you were very serious about a non-serious subject inverted everything."
Lichtenstein was often dubbed an "image duplicator," because he found ideas for pictures in ones that already existed. Throughout his oeuvre is the sense of quotation, pastiche, and borrowing from influences as variant as painters of the American West such as Carl Wimar and Carl Bodmer, Impressionists such as Claude Monet, modernist painters including Cezanne, Matisse, and Picasso, Abstract Expressionists like de Kooning—even from architecture of ancient Egypt. And most famously, he borrowed from the "low" art of advertising, graphic design, and comic books, turning Mickey Mouse and sad-faced women from the romance comics into cultural icons, instantly recognizable as a reworking by Lichtenstein. As Baker commented, Lichtenstein's paintings of the early 1960s "appeared to be throwing overboard most of what was thought to make artart.…[His]uncompromising paintings met with both excitement and fierce resistance; they also clarified a new artistic point of view." Labeled by critics in the early 1960s as "the worst artist in America,"
Lichtenstein died an honored and revered pioneer in modernism, his artworks "ranked among the world's richest prizes, routinely selling for millions of dollars," according to Brendan I. Koerner in U.S. News & World Report.
A Manhattan Sensibility
Lichtenstein was born and raised in New York City, coming from a family comfortably well off; his father, Milton, owned a real estate firm. He formed an early interest in art, and took courses, while still a teenager, at the Parsons School of Design. Lichtenstein also devoted hours of his youth to designing and building model airplanes. In 1936 he entered the Franklin School for Boys, a private school on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. Graduating in 1940, he briefly studied with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League, enrolling at Ohio State University the following autumn. At the time, Ohio State had one of the few studio art programs in the nation; there he studied under Hoyt L. Sherman, "a late Fauvist painter, designer and architect who introduced his students to modernism in a period dominated by American Scene painting," according to Ernst A. Busche in Grove Art Online. Sherman also emphasized the abstract qualities of any picture, be it representative or not. This idea that all art is abstract at its most basic level—an approximation of reality rather than reality itself—deeply influenced Lichtenstein throughout his career. As Roni Feinstein noted in Art in America, Lichtenstein "consistently cited his teacher and mentor, Hoyt L. Sherman, … as the source of his conception of compositional unity and his interest in issues of perception." Busche also commented that works such as the Mirrors series "explicitly question the assumption that the function of representational art was to reflect reality." Busche further noted that in all of Lichtenstein's work, in media from paintings to prints and sculptures, Lichtenstein "continued to affirm that the arrangement of forms and colours obeyed pictorial rules independent of the subject portrayed."
Lichtenstein's studies were interrupted in 1943, when he was drafted into the Army and was trained both in anti-aircraft units and pilot training before being sent to England in early 1945. He was assigned to the engineering battalion of the 69th Infantry Division, and spent much of the rest of the war drawing up maps for the march across enemy territory during the Allied invasion of Germany. At the close of hostilities, he took classes at the Cité Universitaire of Paris, but with the declining health and death of his father in 1946, he was furloughed to the United States and ultimately discharged. Thereafter, he returned to Ohio State University on the GI Bill and earned both his B.F.A., in 1946, and his M.F.A. in 1949. That same year he married Isabel Wilson. The couple would have two sons together in a marriage lasting twenty years.
A Decade of Struggle
In the early part of his painting career, Lichtenstein, like many struggling artists, supported himself and his young family through a variety of academic and commercial jobs. He taught at Ohio State from 1949 to 1951. He then moved to Cleveland, where he designed windows and worked as a draftsman for graphics and engineering firms. In 1957 he was appointed assistant professor of art at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego, and from 1960 to 1963 he taught at Douglas College, the women's division of Rutgers University.
Artistically, Lichtenstein spent the 1950s searching for his style. Initially his studies led him to abstraction. "I thought I was an Abstract Expressionist," he told Martin Filler in a Vanity Fair profile. "It was all of my training. And, of course, [Willem] de Kooning and [Jackson] Pollock and [Franz] Kline were heroes. I used to see their work and it was what I thought art was all about." But while Lichtenstein worked abstractly he chose a subject matter at odds with trends. "I was doing these Cubist versions of historical paintings of cowboys and Indians, treaty signings and things like that," he told Milton Esterow in Art News. According to Filler, when Lichtenstein had his first one-man show in New York—at the Carlebach Gallery in 1951—a reviewer called his subjects "out of sync" with his style. These subjects were, according to Busche, "selected for [their] wealth of authentic detail," detail that he then subverted with his own representations of such well-known originals as Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze. Lichtenstein, hungry to find his own style, appropriated the look of artists and motifs as disparate as Picasso and the Rococo.
In 1957 Lichtenstein turned to pure abstract expressionism. This work was "highly charged," according to a contributor for Art in America. In it, he "emphasized the material properties of two opposing methods of paint application." First, he would use a rag to paint dominant compositional masses, which "reiterated the shape of the canvas or deviated from it in attenuated arcs." Then, as a counterpoint to these swaths of heavy pigment, he would add "networks of more spontaneous linear brush-work that echo the color chords of the rest of the painting, but to very different effect." But while these canvases conformed to the aesthetics of the era, they did not match to Lichtenstein's personal taste. By 1958, he was adding cartoon figures to these compositions. "I wasn't thinking of cartoons in 1958," he told Esterow, "I was thinking I could make it as dumb as possible." The final change toward Pop came in 1960, when he took a teaching position at Rutgers and fell in with a group of influential artists, including sculptor George Segal and theoretician Alan Kaprow. The latter argued that artists should include common objects and messages in their work and respond to rather than exclude their environment.
A Pop Pioneer
With Kaprow's encouragement, Lichtenstein kept his cartoon subject matter but dropped the expressionist technique. Instead of incorporating cartoon figures into an expressionist painting, he "really tried to make [the paintings] look like a cartoon or bubble gum wrapper," he told Esterow. To this end, he "tried to efface any sign of the painter's touch," according to Filler, "mimicking not only the crudity but also the flat, affectless surface of mechanical reproduction." He further achieved this look by the use of a heavy black border line and by the use of the Benday dot technique—both of which were standard newspaper techniques. The Benday dots imitated newspaper half-tones, which achieved toning and shading by the use of small black dots: applied with greater or less distance between each dot. The process would increase or decrease the shading. Lichtenstein created his own dots, painted on with a toothbrush. Lichtenstein's palette for these artworks also emphasized the commonplace with a heavy reliance on bright primary colors flatly applied. Like other Pop artists of the time, such as Robert Rauschenberg with his American flag paintings and Warhol, who was turning such everyday objects as a Campbell soup can into an art object by taking it out of its usual surroundings, Lichtenstein too turned to the disposable arts around him, and by injecting a bit of humor, drama, and irony, thereby turning them into something quite new.
Lichtenstein's first painting of this style was Look Mickey!, which shows Mickey Mouse trying hard not to laugh while Donald Duck struggles with a fishing rod hooked to the seat of his pants. He followed Mickey with an avalanche of images drawn from comic books and advertisements. From war comics he extracted canvases of cannon crews, submarines, and exploding jet fighters. Of these combat pictures, Blam! was one of the best known. From newspaper advertisements, he appropriated images of extension cords and electric crock pots. And he mined romance comics for what Filler called "postpubescent mush"—paintings of beautiful but distraught cartooned girls with thought balloons like "THAT'S THE WAY—IT SHOULD HAVE BEGUN! BUT IT'S HOPELESS!" In 1962 Lichtenstein took some of these paintings to influential New York art dealer Leo Castelli, who agreed to represent him. When, later that year, Castelli mounted the first show of the cartoon paintings, Lichtenstein became an instant celebrity. There and at the "New Realists" group show at New York's Sidney Janis Gallery, Lichtenstein's cartoon paintings "created an immediate media sensation," according Filler. "They were easy to understand (at least superficially)," Filler commented, "they were fun … and they reproduced like a dream because they used the same visual vocabulary as illustrations in mass market publications." Hughes noted that quickly Lichtenstein's work became "the most popular of any Pop artist's. You could pick out his style underwater or a mile away.…It was his own logo."
The public "got" the paintings right away but critical reaction was mixed. Failing to see Lichtenstein's irony and not being familiar with his sources, several critics were outraged by his seemingly passive copying. For example, Max Kozloff reacted to Lichtenstein by writing, according to Lawrence Alloway in the latter's book on the artist, that "the art galleries are being invaded by the pin-headed and contemptible style of gum-chewers, Bobby-Soxers and, worse, delinquents." In retrospect it seems clear that Lichtenstein was aiming what a critic for the New York Times called a "giant pin" at "the hot-air balloon of Abstract Expressionism" and that he was criticizing and not idolizing his images of domestic objects, domesticated women, and macho men. In fact, Lichtenstein was "a very politically correct artist" whose work made "terrific, subtle political statements" about "shopping consumerist females" and macho men in the army, critic Robert Rosenblum told Filler in Vanity Fair.
Away from Pop
Another concern of Lichtenstein's in these cartoon paintings was the solution to formal problems. By imitating the look of printing, he and artists like Warhol solved the problem of stressing the two-dimensional painting surface while depicting three-dimensional objects. Further, he found—in the explosions of his war pictures—he could use commercially derived artistic means to produce images with the expressive power of abstract expressionism. By 1965 Lichtenstein had for the most part abandoned cartoon imagery for continually evolving, chronologically overlapping groups of paintings, each of which alluded to paintings by other artists, to stylistic movements, to architecture, or to the process of making art. From 1962 to 1964 he painted reproductions of works by Paul Cezanne, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso. From 1964 to 1969 he depicted architectural monuments—bringing a cartoon-like idealization to such icons as the pyramids of Egypt and the temples of Greece. From 1965 to 1966 he painted huge, cartoon-like images of brushstrokes, creating what an Art In America contributor called "premeditated images of spontaneity." In 1969 Lichtenstein tackled impressionism by appropriating Claude Monet's Haystack and Rouen Cathedral images. Interestingly, while Lichtenstein favored the look of mass-production as opposed to Monet's very human approach, Lichtenstein told Lawrence Alloway that it probably took him ten times as long to do one of the Cathedral or Haystack paintings as it took Monet to do his.
Lichtenstein's increasing success—he had his first European exhibition in 1963, his first solo museum exhibition in 1966, and his first museum retrospective in 1967—enabled him to leave academia and devote himself to art full time. In 1963 he rented an art studio in New York City, and the following year he resigned from Rutgers. In 1968 he married his second wife, Dorothy Herzka, and in 1970 he moved to a house in Southampton on Long Island.
In the early 1970s Lichtenstein painted abstract mirrors and entablatures. The mirrors reflected no images and were described by Alloway as "abstract canvases" whose "ghostly surfaces shimmer with Ben-Day dots." The entablatures resembled the geometric designs found near the roofs of classical Greek temples. In the mid-1970s he began exploring neglected artistic "back roads" such as Futurism, the School of Paris, and Decorative American Indian. Typical of these explorations was his revival of trompe l'oeil, a style of trick painting that fools the viewer into thinking something—such as a fly—is on the canvas. Lichtenstein defeated his own "trick" by painting a fly so cartoonish no viewer would be fooled by it. While these explorations often presaged a style's return to favor, some theorized that Lichtenstein was using them to deflate the too self-important attitude of some artists and critics.
The Late Period
By the early 1980s, Lichtenstein was again reacting to the expressionism he was trained in. "Like many artists who matured in the 1950s," Alloway wrote, "he has devised a number of strategies which enable him to examine critically the values embodied in these styles." One strategy was to mix actual expressionist brushstrokes with the kind of cartooned, stylized brushstrokes he perfected in the 1960s.
From his earliest paintings, Lichtenstein's techniques changed little. He began each painting with small pencil sketches, scaled to fit an opaque projector. He then projected the drawing onto the canvas, "located" its outlines in pencil, and started to paint, sometimes with additional clarifying drawings and often with the canvas upside-down to encourage a more idealized, less painterly approach. "It sounds methodical," he told Alloway, "but it is open to change at any point." Over the years, his style grew into a complex vocabulary unto itself. In the 1980s he returned from Long Island to live and paint in New York City, and began to weave many of his recurring themes into what a critic for the New York Times called "compositions of increasingly dense and complex designs." These compositions "reach[ed] their dizzying climax" according to the same contributor, in "his baroque 'Interiors' of the early 90s, works that are on the scale, and have some of the qualities of stage sets." The canvases of this series of paintings—many of which took their general look from advertisements in phone books—affirmed his continued inventiveness and range. These tiny images taken from the Yellow Pages, continued his desire to show the many-sided nature of reality as viewed through particular lenses.
As he neared seventy in 1993, Lichtenstein was honored by a massive and widely reviewed retrospective of his work at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Commenting on the exhibition, several critics noted that his works of thirty years previous still looked fresh. In his Time review of the retrospective, Robert Hughes commented that Lichtenstein's "images, coming initially out of mass reproduction itself, slide back into it with the utmost ease and have done so for the past 30 years, filling memory with tiny Lichtenstein clones." Hughes found not only this sense of reliability in Lichtenstein's art, but also the elements of spontaneity and mystery. "You can't imagine people asking themselves with bated breath, 'What will Lichtenstein do next?' You know the answer, although the exact image he will do it to is as yet unknown."
Lichtenstein continued to confound the critics with his series of paintings titled Perfect and Imperfect, the former being "compositions generated by multiple straight lines meeting at angles," according to Christopher Miles, writing in Artforum International. Lichtenstein later enlarged on this motif to create bowed lines that do not necessarily meet at such well-defined angles, "skewing them so that points would stick out here and there beyond the boundaries of the frame," according to Miles, who further commented that these entirely original compositions demonstrate that Lichtenstein "may well have been at his best and among the best as an abstract painter." Lichtenstein also worked in ceramic and painted bronze sculpture, creating sometimes quite large, flat-looking pieces that were actually quotations from his own paintings. His five-story-high Mural with Blue Brushstrokes was commissioned for New York's Equitable Center.
Lichtenstein continued working until his death from pneumonia in 1997 at the age of seventy-three. News of his death was, in fact, released at the same time as news of the opening of his new exhibitions in both London and Zurich. David Zimmerman, writing in USA Today at the time of the artist's death, quoted Lichtenstein about his work. "I take a cliche and try to organize its forms to make it monumental." There is no greater evidence of the power of such transformations than one of his Interiors, a rendition of the White House's Oval Office, which later was used as a campaign poster and button for then presidential candidate Bill Clinton. "He began by quoting the comics," Claire Bell, a curator of the Guggenheim told Zimmerman, "and now advertising quotes him." For Baker, Lichtenstein's achievement is not confined to one generation. "He extended the modernist testing of limits," Baker wrote. "He homesteaded extensive territory that younger artists would carve up, fence off and micro-cultivate."
If you enjoy the works of Roy Lichtenstein, you might want to check out the following:
The art work of Andy Warhol (1927-1987), a major figure in Pop Art.
The paintings of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), an abstract expressionist painter.
The art work of Robert Rauschenberg, an artist of the Pop Art movement
Biographical and Critical Sources
Adelman, Bob, The Art of Roy Lichtenstein: Mural with Blue Brushstrokes, introduction by Calvin Tomkins, Arcade (New York, NY), 1987.
Adelman, Bob, Roy Lichtenstein's ABC, designed by Samuel N. Antupit, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1999.
Alloway, Lawrence, Roy Lichtenstein, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1983.
Boris, Janet, Roy Lichtenstein, ArtEd Series (New York, NY), 2001.
Busche, Ernst A., Roy Lichtenstein: Das Fruehwerk, 1942-1960, Gebruder Mann (Berlin, Germany), 1988.
Contemporary Artists, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Coplans, John, compiler, Roy Lichtenstein, Praeger (New York, NY), 1972.
Corlett, Mary Lee, The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein,: A Catalogue Raisone, 1948-1994, introduction by Ruth E. Fine, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Cowart, Jack, Roy Lichtenstein, 1970-1980, Hudson Hills Press (New York, NY), 1981.
Ergas, G. Aimee, Artists: From Michelangelo to Maya Lin, Volume 2, UXL/Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995-2002, pp. 257-264.
Hendrickson, Janis, Roy Lichtenstein, Benedikt Taschen (Cologne, Germany), 1994.
International Dictionary of Art and Artists, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Roy Lichtenstein: Dessins Sans Bande, preface by Daniel Abadie, Centre Beaubourg (Paris, France), 1975.
Tomkins, Calvin, Roy Lichtenstein: Mural with Blue Brushstroke, photographs and interview by Bob Adelman, H. N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1987.
Waldman, Diane, Roy Lichtenstein, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1993.
Artforum International, January, 2003, Christopher Miles, "Roy Lichtenstein," p. 144.
Art In America, January 1983; July 1992; July, 2002, Roni Feinstein, "Lichtenstein: Seeing Is Believing," pp. 78-82.
Art News, May 1991, Milton Esterow, "Roy Lichtenstein," pp. 85-90.
Insight on News, July 15, 1999, Stephen Goode, "Sculpting with a Smile," p. 37.
Interview, January, 1998, David Bowie, "Crash! Bang! It's Roy!," p. 90.
Investors Business Daily, January 13, 2003, "When Pop (Pow!) Hit Fine Art Focus on Vision," p. A4.
Newsweek, October 18, 1993.
New Yorker, November 8, 1993.
New York Times, October 8, 1993.
Time, November 8, 1993, Robert Hughes, "The Image Duplicator," pp. 83-84.
Vanity Fair, August 1993, Martin Filler, "Pop's Granddad," pp. 128-140.
Grove Art Online,http://www.groveart.com (September 20, 2003), Ernst A. Busche, "Lichtenstein, Roy"; Marco Livingstone, "Pop Art."
Roy Lichtenstein Foundation,http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org/(September 20, 2003).
Art in America, December, 1997, Elizabeth C. Baker, "Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997," p. 21.
Detroit Free Press, September 30, 1997, p. B2.
New Yorker, October 13, 1997, Adam Gopnik, "The Modest Modernist," pp. 72-73.
Time, October 13, 1997, Robert Hughes, "Pop's Most Popular," p. 101.
U.S. News & World Report, October 13, 1997, Brendan I. Koerner, "An Artist with a Comic View," p. 10.
Chicago Tribune Online,http://www.chicago.tribune.com/ (October 3, 1997).
New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (September 30, 1997).
Times Online (London, England), http://www.thetimes.co.uk/ (September 30 and October 1, 1997).
USA Today Online,http://usatoday.com/ (September 30, 1997), David Zimmerman, "Roy Lichtenstein."
Washington Post Online,http://search.washingtonpost.com/ (October 1, 1997).*
Lichtenstein was the eldest of two children of Milton Lichtenstein, a realtor, and Beatrice (Werner) Lichtenstein, a homemaker. He first attended public school and then a private school in Manhattan, the Benjamin Franklin High School for Boys, graduating in June 1940. Attending the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University from 1940 to 1943 and again from 1946 to 1949, he was influenced by Professor Hoyt L. Sherman, who had students draw from memory images that had just been projected through lantern slides. Lichtenstein graduated from the university with a B.F.A. in 1946 and an M.F.A. in 1949. From 1943 to 1946 Lichtenstein served in the U.S. Army in the engineering battalion of the Sixty-ninth Infantry Division, drawing maps to aid the Allied advance across Europe. He was discharged with the rank of private first class.
From 1952 to 1955 Lichtenstein worked in a variety of styles and mediums, including expressionism, abstraction, and painted wood constructions—all with a distinctly American subject matter. In 1957 he made his first protopop work, a lithograph entitled The Ten Dollar Bill. From 1957 to 1960, while teaching as an assistant professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, Lichtenstein made renderings of the cartoon characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and others. From 1960 to 1964 he was an assistant professor at Douglass College of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and while there he attended the avant-garde artist Allen Kaprow's "happenings," which featured audience participation and welcomed spontaneous developments. There he met the artists Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Lucas Samaras, and George Segal.
In 1960 Lichtenstein's painting Look, Mickey, I've Hooked a Big One was his first work taken directly from the panel of a comic strip, a picture of Donald Duck tugging at a fishing pole with its hook caught in his jacket. Most of his paintings of the 1962–1964 period were based on panels of comic strips dealing with pulp romance and combat in war. He liked to work in series. In 1964 he produced ceramic sculptures of girls' heads, derived from teen comics, and precariously balanced cups as well as painted landscapes of sunsets, sunrises, seascapes, and a series of paintings of Greek temples. In 1965–1966 he created another series of paintings of brushstrokes and explosions. Paintings of monumental architecture continued from 1964 to 1969. At the end of the decade Lichtenstein made paintings based on other paintings or parts of paintings by past masters, such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Claude Monet. His Haystacks (1968) and Cathedral series of 1969 were facsimiles of famous works of Monet dating to the 1890s.
In 1961 Lichtenstein joined the prominent Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. The next year he was included in the New Paintings/Common Objects exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum, the first museum exhibition to feature pop art, and in the New Realists exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York along with many other pop artists. In 1963 he was given a year of absence from Rutgers University (he resigned the next year to devote himself to making art full-time) and moved to Twenty-sixth Street in New York City. That year he was one of ten artists commissioned by the architect Philip Johnson to make works for his circular theater at New York's World Fair, and he was given a solo exhibition at the Galerie Sonnabend in Paris. Thereafter, he was recognized as a major American artist. In April 1967 Lichtenstein was given his first museum retrospective, at the Pasadena Art Museum, and his first New York retrospective was held at the Guggenheim Museum in September 1969. In 1969 he spent two weeks at the Universal Film Studios in Los Angeles as artist in residence to make a seascape film for the art and technology exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum.
On 12 June 1949 Lichtenstein married Isabel Wilson, whom he had met in Cleveland, where she was codirector of the Ten-Thirty Gallery. They had two sons and divorced in 1965. On 1 November 1968 he married Dorothy Herzka, and they settled in Southampton, Long Island, in 1970. They had no children.
Pop art uses as its subject matter new, mass-produced, instantly recognizable consumer objects, and its end product is often cool and hard to the touch. As an art form it is one of the major reactions against abstract expressionism, which is wholly or mostly nonobjective, painterly in style, and improvisational in approach. Lichtenstein's comic-strip paintings are enlargements of one frame of a comic strip. They feature strong comic-book colors, even the mechanically regular Ben-day dotted textures (named after the printer Benjamin Day), but there are modifications. The paintings omit superfluous wording and excess detailing to produce a leaner, more pared-down image. Lichtenstein insisted that "what I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense that I'm using the word; the comics have shapes but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified." His renderings of brushstrokes that are isolated from their larger context, set forth on a gigantic scale—his Big Painting #6 (1965) measures seven feet, eight-and-a-half inches by ten feet, nine inches—can be construed as an affront to the humanistic underpinnings of abstract expressionism.
Lichtenstein sought to make bombastic that which intrinsically was commonplace and secondary, while bypassing that which was original and aesthetically meritorious. His Rouen Cathedral series was given the appearance not of Monet's originals but of the cheap, garish posters typically displayed in travel agents' offices. His art had to do with tastelessness, with the second-rate, with the erosion of quality. Not so much as an excuse but as a self-validation, the artist asserted, "I have the feeling that these flat images conform far more to what really goes on inside our heads than those false depths" of the abstract expressionists. The idea behind Lichtenstein's art was paramount. His art can be taken simultaneously as clever humor, bold form, and subtle social commentary.
While continuing to work with series of paintings, Lichtenstein explored new subjects after the 1960s. These included the Mirrors in 1970–1972, the Entablatures in 1971–1972 and 1974–1976, and the Mirrors and Entablatures in the early 1980s. In the 1970s he made paintings composed of a variety of borrowings from several artists. His reputation as a major artist following abstract expressionism held firm. On 26 April 1977 Lichtenstein won the Skowhegan Medal for painting. In 1981 a retrospective of his work from the 1970s, organized by the St. Louis Museum, traveled through the United States, Europe, and Japan. In his comic-strip paintings, in his works based on paintings of earlier modern masters, and in his series of Brushstrokes, Lichtenstein set forth an iconography of pop art as enduring as the most familiar works of Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist, and Robert Indiana. Lichtenstein died at the age of seventy-three at New York University Medical Center in Manhattan from complications of pneumonia.
Biographies on Lichtenstein include John Coplans, ed., Roy Lichtenstein (1972); Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein (1993), a comprehensive and scholarly book; and Janis Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein (1996). For works on Lichtenstein's art see Jack Cowart, Lichtenstein 1970–1980 (1981), which has good illustrations, including some of colored pencil sketches and aluminum and bronze pieces; Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein (1983); and Lou Ann Walker, Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist at Work (1994). Interviews with Lichtenstein are in "An Interview with Roy Lichtenstein," Artforum (Oct. 1963), and "Talking with Roy Lichtenstein," Artforum (May 1967). Obituaries are in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, and USA Today (all 30 Sept. 1997); the Times (London) and Washington Post (both 1 Oct. 1997); and the Chicago Tribune (3 Oct. 1997).
Abraham A. Davidson
Roy Lichtenstein, American painter, sculptor, and printmaker, startled the art world in 1962 by exhibiting paintings based on comic book cartoons.
Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City on October 27, 1923, the son of Milton and Beatrice Werner Lichtenstein. His father owned a real estate firm. Lichtenstein studied with artist Reginald Marsh (1898–1954) at the Art Students League in 1939. After graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in New York City, he entered Ohio State University. However, in 1943 his education was interrupted by three years of army service, during which he drew up maps for planned troop movements across Germany during World War II (1939–45; a war in which Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States fought against Germany, Japan, and Italy). Lichtenstein received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Ohio State University in 1946 and a master of fine arts degree in 1949. He taught at Ohio State until 1951, then went to Cleveland, Ohio, to work. In 1957 he started teaching at Oswego State College in New York; in 1960 he moved to Rutgers University in New Jersey. Three years later he gave up teaching to paint full-time.
From 1951 to about 1957 Lichtenstein's paintings dealt with themes of the American West—cowboys, Native Americans, and the like—in a style similar to that of modern European painters. Next he began hiding images of comic strip figures (such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny) in his paintings. By 1961 he had created the images for which he became known. These included advertisement illustrations—common objects such as string, golf balls, kitchen curtains, slices of pie, or a hot dogs. He also used other artists' works to create new pieces, such as Woman with Flowered Hat (1963), based on a reproduction of a work by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). He also created versions of paintings by Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), Gilbert Stuart's (1755–1828) portrait of George Washington (1732–1799), and Claude Monet's (1840–1926) haystacks.
Lichtenstein was best known for his paintings based on comic strips, with their themes of passion, romance, science fiction, violence, and war. In these paintings, Lichtenstein uses the commercial art methods: projectors magnify spray-gun stencils, creating dots to make the pictures look like newspaper cartoons seen through a magnifying glass. In the late 1960s he turned to design elements and the commercial art of the 1930s, as if to explore the history of pop art (a twentieth-century art movement that uses everyday items). In 1966 his work was included in the Venice (Italy) Biennale art show. In 1969 New York's Guggenheim Museum gave a large exhibition of his work.
Tries different styles
The 1970s saw Lichtenstein continuing to experiment with new styles. His "mirror" paintings consist of sphere-shaped canvases with areas of color and dots. One of these, Self-Portrait (1978), is similar to the work of artist René Magritte (1898–1967) in its playful placement of a mirror where a human head should be. Lichtenstein also created a series of still lifes (paintings that show inanimate objects) in different styles during the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, Lichtenstein began to mix and match styles. Often his works relied on optical (relating to vision) tricks, drawing his viewers into a debate over the nature of "reality." The works were always marked by Lichtenstein's trademark sense of humor and the absurd.
Lichtenstein's long career and large body of work brought him appreciation as one of America's greatest living artists. In 1994 he designed a painting for the hull of the United States entry in the America's Cup yacht race. A series of sea-themed works followed. In 1995 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art launched a traveling exhibition, "The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein," which covered more than twenty years of his work in this medium.
In a 1996 exhibition at New York City's Leo Castelli gallery, Lichtenstein unveiled a series of paintings, "Landscapes in the Chinese Style," which consisted of delicate "impressions" of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. The series was praised for its restraint (control), as common Lichtenstein elements, such as the use of dots to represent mass, were used to support the compositions rather than to declare an individual style. Lichtenstein died on September 29, 1997, in New York City, at the age of seventy-three.
For More Information
Alloway, Lawrence. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Abbeville Press, 1983.
Waldman, Diane. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Rizzoli Publications, 1993.
Walker, Lou Ann. Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist at Work. New York: Lodestar Books, 1994.
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), American painter, sculptor, and printmaker, startled the art world in 1962 by exhibiting paintings based on comic-book cartoons.
Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923. He attended school there, and in 1939 studied with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League. The following year he entered Ohio State University. However, in 1943 his education was interrupted; he served in the U.S. Army for three years. He received his bachelor of fine arts degree from Ohio State University in 1946 and a master of fine arts in 1949. He taught at Ohio State until 1951, then went to Cleveland to work. In 1957 he started teaching at Oswego State College in New York; in 1960 he moved to Rutgers University. Three years later he gave up teaching to paint full time.
From 1951 to about 1957 Lichtenstein's paintings interpret themes of the American West— cowboys, Indians, and the like—in a style broadly imitative of modern European painters. Next, he began hiding images of comic strip figures (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny) in his paintings. By 1961 he had evolved the imagery for which he became known. Broadly, he uses four types of images. The first three are advertisement illustrations—commonplace objects such as string, golf balls, kitchen curtains, slices of pie, or a hot dog. He also used ommercialized variants of other artists' works, such as Woman with Flowered Hat (1963), based on a coarse, supermarket reproduction of a Picasso, and adaptations of paintings by Piet Mondrian, of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington, and of Claude Monet's haystacks and cathedral facades.
The fourth type of Lichtenstein imagery appears in paintings based on comic strips, with their themes of passion, romance, science fiction, violence, and war. In these, Lichtenstein employs the techniques of commercial art: projectors magnify and spray-gun stencils create dots to make the pictures look like newspaper cartoons seen through a magnifying glass.
Lichtenstein's art is irreverent, at times antiseptic, yet the impact is usually brutal. He is fascinated with converting the banal into art and debasing fine art through commercialization. In the late 1960s he turned to design elements found in Art-Deco and the commercial art of the 1930s, as if to explore pop art's forerunners. In 1966 his work was included in the Venice Biennale. In 1969 New York's Guggenheim Museum gave him a large retrospective exhibition.
The 1970s saw Lichtenstein continuing to experiment with new styles. His "mirror" paintings consist of spherical canvases with areas of color and dots. One of these, Self-Portrait (1978), follows Magritte in its playful placement of a mirror where a human head should be. During this decade, Lichtenstein also created a series of still lifes in different styles.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Lichtenstein began to mix and match styles, often augmenting his cartoony images with ideas derived from abstract expressionism. Often his works relied on optical tricks or illusions, drawing his viewers into a debate over the nature of "reality." Always the works were marked by Lichtenstein's trademark sense of humor and the absurd.
Lichtenstein's longevity and prolific output brought him appreciation as one of America's greatest living artists. His reputation as a gray eminence was solidified by his 1994 commission to design a painting to adorn the hull of the United State's entry in the America's Cup yacht race. A series of maritime-themed works followed. In 1995, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art launched a traveling exhibition, "The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein," which covered more than two decades of his work in this medium.
1996 marked a major departure for Lichtenstein. In an exhibition at New York's Leo Castelli gallery, he unveiled a series of paintings, "Landscapes in the Chinese Style," which eschewed irony in favor of delicate, wispy "impressions" of traditional Chinese landscape paintings. The series was praised for its subtlety and restraint, as recognizable Lichtenstein techniques—the use of modulated dots to represent mass for example—were used to support the compositions rather than to declare an individual style. Lichtenstein died on Sept. 29, 1997, at the age of 73.
Two museum catalogs are Roy Lichtenstein: Exhibition Held at the Tate Gallery, 6 January-4 February 1968 (1968), with an essay on the artist and an interview with him, and Diane Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein (1969), written for the 1969 Guggenheim exhibition. Further material on Lichtenstein and pop art is in Lucy R. Lippard, Pop Art (1966), and John Russell and Suzi Gablik, comps., Pop Art Redefined (1969). Books focused exclusively on the artist include Lawrence Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein (1983), Lou Ann Walker, Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist at Work (1994), and Janis Hendrickson, Roy Lichtenstein (1996). □
LICHTENSTEIN, ROY (1923–1997), U.S. painter, printmaker, and sculptor. One of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement, Lichtenstein was born in New York. He briefly studied with Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York (summer 1939), and then pursued a B.F.A. (1947) and an M.F.A. (1949) at Ohio State University (1940–43; 1946–49), his progress interrupted by several years in the Army. Early in his career Lichtenstein experimented with Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and other modern styles. In the late 1950s he even rendered the comic subjects that would become synonymous with his name in a loose, painterly fashion.
Lichtenstein derived his first paintings based on comic images from his children's bubble-gum wrappers. These early works, such as Look Mickey (1961, National Gallery of Art, Washington, d.c.), did not yet simulate newsprint techniques and remain closely allied with the original source in color and composition. Within a year Lichtenstein began his enlarged reproductions of comic book scenes rendered in primary colors without modulation, thick black outlines, and an imitation Benday dot technique akin to newsprint. According to Lichtenstein, the subjects of his early paintings – the melodrama of his heartbroken beauties and the violent deaths of his war heroes – were not of interest to him. Rather, he said, the comics were simply used for formal reasons.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, Lichtenstein began quoting well-known works of art and also paraphrasing popular art forms in his signature comic book style. The "Brush-stroke" paintings of 1965–66 show enlarged gestural marks that mock Abstract Expressionism by the very dichotomy of Lichtenstein's lucid technique and the thick, dripping oil paint he reproduces. Lichtenstein found great success with the comic-styled works, enjoying his first retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1967, followed by a retrospective on the East Coast at the Guggenheim Museum in New York two years later. Through the 1970s and early 1980s, Lichtenstein continued to use the history of art as his source material, quoting major paintings by the German Expressionists, the Surrealists, and other avant-garde artists. The last decades of his life were marked by several series, including a cycle of "Interiors" derived from advertisements. Throughout his career Lichtenstein was also an active printmaker. On occasion he would execute sculptures such as the Mermaid (1979) that lounges on the grass in front of the Miami Beach Theater for Performing Arts. In 1989 he made a 23 by 54 foot mural for the entrance hall of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
L. Alloway, Roy Lichtenstein (1983); B. Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein (1987); D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein (1993); M.L. Corlett, The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein: A Catalogue Raisonné (1948–1997) (2002).
[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]