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Definition: Lichtenstein, Roy from Philip's Encyclopedia

US painter, sculptor, and graphic artist. Lichtenstein experimented with abstract expressionism, but is now regarded as a leading exponent of pop art. Among his best-known paintings are Whaam! (1963) and Good Morning, Darling (1964).

Summary Article: Roy Lichtenstein (1923–97), painter, printmaker, and sculptor.
from Artists of the American Mosaic: Encyclopedia of Jewish American Artists

One of the leading figures of the Pop Art movement, Roy 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 rendered the comic subjects that would become synonymous with his name in a loose, painterly fashion.

Lichtenstein derived his initial paintings based on comic images from his childrens' bubblegum wrappers. For example, Look Mickey (1961, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)—a painting reproducing a scene of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck fishing—did not yet simulate newsprint techniques and remains closely allied with the original source in color and composition. Within a year Lichtenstein delineated enlarged reproductions of comic book scenes with thick black outlines, an imitation Benday dot technique akin to newsprint, and in primary colors without modulation. Many of the paintings utilize a characteristic comic balloon filled with words to elucidate the figure's thoughts. Oh, Jeff … I Love You, Too … But… (1964, private collection) presents a crestfallen woman on the telephone with the words of the title in a blurb to illuminate the story line encapsulated in the single frame. According to Lichtenstein, the subjects of his paintings from approximately 1961 to 1965—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 used for their formal qualities. Art historian Bradford Collins, however, refutes Lichtenstein's claim that he only cared about formal values, equating the artist's interest in kitschy subjects of love and war with the heartbreak and “private war” of his divorce (61–62, 75–80). Notably, Lichtenstein's preoccupation with these themes ended as his divorce was finalized.

Lichtenstein's banal, ironic comic book imagery challenged the contemporary art scene, which had been infiltrated by the seriousness of Abstract Expressionism for over a decade. Life magazine critic Dorothy Seiberling questioned the goals and long-term implications of Lichtenstein's comic paintings in 1964: “He leaves the viewer wondering if his paintings are only parodies, ironic gestures, or if they will outlast their shock and give a new shape to art?” (83).

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 “Brushstroke” paintings of 1965–66, such as Little Big Painting (1965, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), depict enlarged gestural marks that mock Abstract Expressionism by the very dichotomy of Lichtenstein's lucid, flat technique and the thick, dripping oil paint he reproduces. Lichtenstein found great success with his 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 two years later.

During 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. Artist's Studio, “Dancers” (1974, Museum of Modern Art, New York) draws on Henri Matisse's famous Still Life with “Dance” (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), and Lichtenstein's Cubist Still Life (1974, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) is a play on the Cubists' pictorial language. The last decades of Lichtenstein's life were marked by several series, sometimes executed with an expanded palette, including a cycle of “Interiors” derived from advertisements.

Also an active printmaker, Lichtenstein made many screenprints, lithographs, woodcuts, and etchings that exploit the same comic-styled Pop subjects as his paintings. On occasion Lichtenstein would execute public sculptures such as the steel Mermaid (1979) that lounges on the grass in front of the Jackie Gleason Theater for the Performing Arts on Miami Beach, and the 25-foot tall aluminum brushstroke at the Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio, appropriately titled Brushstrokes in Flight (1984). Several public murals have been installed, including a four-wall mural (two walls measure 12 × 35 feet, and two walls measure 12 × 25 feet) of the artist's famous brushstrokes (1970) at the School of Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf and a two-paneled 23 by 54-foot mural for the entrance hall of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art (1989) (Color Plate 11). The collage-like design of the latter mural incorporates an amalgamation of imagery, including an appropriation of one of Marc Chagall's flying fiddlers in the upper center portion. Lichtenstein also designed a lithograph based on the mural, titled Tel Aviv Museum Print (1989), which was sold to benefit the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. In 1996 Lichtenstein received an honorary fellowship from the Tel Aviv Museum.

The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, in association with Yale University Press, plans to publish a seven-volume, color, catalogue raisonné of Lichtenstein's full body of work in 2006.

Selected Public Collections

Art Institute of Chicago

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Tate Gallery, London

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

  • Alloway, Lawrence. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Abbeville Press, 1983.
  • Collins, Bradford R. “Modern Romance: Lichtenstein's Comic Book Paintings.” American Art 17, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 60-85.
  • Coplans, John, ed. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1972.
  • Corlett, Mary Lee. The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein: A Catalogue Raisonné (1948-1997). New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2002.
  • Cowart, Jack. Roy Lichtenstein, 1970-1980. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1981.
  • Lichtenstein, Roy. Some Kind of Reality: Roy Lichtenstein interviewed by David Sylvester in 1966 and 1997. London: Anthony d'Offay, 1997.
  • Lobel, Michael. Image Duplicator: Roy Lichtenstein and the Emergence of Pop Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
  • Rose, Bernice. The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1987.
  • Seiberling, Dorothy. “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” Life 56 (January 31, 1964): 79-83.
  • Waldman, Diane. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1993.
  • Copyright © 2006 by Samantha Baskind

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