Roy Lichtenstein is one of the most emblematic painters, lithographers, sculptors and potters of American Pop Art. He is with Andy Warhol a pioneer and a key figure in this movement. Today, September 29 we will tell you in detail how he got there, on the anniversary of his death.
Biography of Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born on October 27, 1923 to a wealthy family in Manhattan.
Lichtenstein was drawn to design very early on. At the same time as his last year of high school, he then followed the courses of the Art Students League of New York. Quite naturally, in 1940 he then went on to study industrial design at the University of Ohio. But in 1943, in the middle of World War II, the American army called him up as an officer and sent him to Europe, where he remained there for 3 years.
He took advantage of his permits to visit museums in London and Paris. It was in 1946 that he returned to New York and resumed his studies where he left off. With his diploma in hand, he began teaching drawing. He later became a professor at Oswego University and then at Rutgers University, where Allan Kaprow, a great source of inspiration for the artist, also taught.
In 1949 he moved with his wife Isabel Wilson to Cleveland, but remained there for only a few years. The couple had 2 children and separated in 1969. Roy Lichtenstein then remarried to Dorothy Herzka from whom he separated, but with whom he remarried again later.
Artist and teacher
Early in his artistic career, Lichtenstein painted themes of the American West in a variety of modern art styles; he also dabbled in abstract expressionism in 1957, a style against which he later reacted. Roy Lichtenstein starts painting more seriously in 1961, and creates one of his most famous works: Look Mickey.
He has been a full-time painter since 1963.
For much of his work he drew heavily from comics, which gave him a unique style and resounding success. For example, Whaam, made in 1963, was based on All American Men of War, a popular DC comic at the time.
As previously mentioned, Lichtenstein began teaching at the State University of New York, Oswego, in 1958. However, the harsh northern winter was heavy on him and his wife.
In 1960 he then began teaching at Rutgers University, where he was strongly influenced by Allan Kaprow, also a professor at the University. This environment helped revive his interest in the “pop” image.
The following year, Lichtenstein began his first pop art paintings using cartoon images and techniques derived from commercial printing. This phase will continue until 1965 when he will use advertising images that suggest scenes of consumption and family.
Roy Lichtenstein’s technique becomes famous
His first large-scale work was the aforementioned “Look Mickey“. And we have a curiosity about this work. This piece was born out of a challenge from one of his sons who showed him a Mickey Mouse cartoon and said, “I bet you can’t paint as well as he does, huh, dad?”
Although initially dissatisfied with his technique and uncomfortable with direct appropriation, Lichtenstein took great pleasure in presenting famous comic book figures in an art format. He has increased the size of his canvases and has begun to manipulate the graphic and linguistic conventions of comics dealing with genres such as romance, war and science fiction. In the style of comics, he used words to express sound effects. He developed a personal effect by outlining areas of primary color with thick black lines and using a technique that simulated BenDay dithering (a dot pattern used by engravers).
In 1961, Leo Castelli began exhibiting works by Lichtenstein in his New York gallery and in 1962 he held his first solo exhibition at the gallery. Indeed, the entire collection was purchased by influential collectors of the time, even before the opening of the exhibition. Two years later, in 1963, Lichtenstein left the chair at Douglass College in Rutgers. In 1966 he was the first American to exhibit at the Tate Gallery in London.
Lichtenstein continued in this direction for much of his career and his works are easily identified by their comic-book characteristics. However, he has extended these techniques into intelligent and inspiring meditations on art and popular culture. After the 1960s, Lichtenstein’s works began to include still lifes and landscapes, and were a dramatic departure from his earlier style in his use of brushstrokes and subjects.
Death of the artist
Roy Lichtenstein died of pneumonia on September 29, 1997 at New York University Medical Center, where he had been hospitalized for some time, four weeks before his 74th birthday. He was survived by his second wife, Dorothy Herzka, and his children, David and Mitchell, born from his first marriage.
The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation
After the artist’s death in 1997, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation was founded in 1999, the purpose of which was also to authenticate the pieces of the late artist. In late 2006, the foundation sent out a greeting card with an image of Electric Cord (1961), a painting that had been missing since 1970 after being sent to art restorer Daniel Goldreyer from the Leo Castelli Gallery. The ticket urged the public to report any information about its location. In 2012, the foundation authenticated the piece when it surfaced in a New York City warehouse. This episode reminds of Mona Lisa, doesn’t it?
Between 2008 and 2012, following the death of photographer Harry Shunk in 2006, the Lichtenstein Foundation acquired the collection of photographic material taken by Shunk-Kender, as well as the copyrights of the photographers. In 2013, the foundation donated the Shunk-Kender treasure to five institutions: the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the National Gallery of Art in Washington; also the Center Pompidou in Paris; and the Tate of London – which will allow each museum to access the share of the others.
All this makes it clear that Lichtenstein’s work, as well as some contemporaries like Warhol, is still relevant today and many of the messages depicted can be directly linked to modern life.
Roy Lichtenstein is really pop
An example of this relevance is Lichtenstein and Warhol’s use of U2 images in 1997 and 1998 for the “PopMart Tour” and an exhibition in 2007 at the British National Portrait Gallery. Among the many works of art that were lost in the World Trade Center in the attacks of 11 September 2001, a painting by Roy Lichtenstein from the Etablature series was destroyed in the fire.
Today, experts estimate that there are more than 4,500 works by Roy Lichtenstein in circulation around the world.
It should also be noted that the artist also created sculptures such as Barcelona Head which was made for the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992.
Roy Lichtenstein has come to such stardom because, over the course of his career, he has never stopped renewing himself. Thinking of him as the painting of comics is wrong because he has composed many other series. Always motivated by the creation of forms, he used new techniques and new materials.
And not only in the field of art, but in the life that art imitates, the secret to moving forward is precisely being able to renew oneself.