The Top 10 Things to Know About Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Fox Lichtenstein is one of the most famous American artists of the Pop Art movement. He rose to prominence in the 1960s and 70s and continues to command record-breaking values for his art at auctions. While his peers, such as Warhol, often used the Pop art style to comment on the negativity of mass consumerism, Lichtenstein’s work takes a decidedly more positive style. He once said, “I’ve never done an anguished picture in my life,” and his glossy, inviting artwork suggests the same. At times loathed by critics and revered by artists, Lichtenstein is nevertheless an interesting career study of mass culture and art world politics. Here are the top 10 things to know about the rich and wonderful life of iconic artist Roy Lichtenstein.
1. He was a born and bred New Yorker.
Lichtenstein was born in 1923 in Manhattan to an upper-middle class family of German-Jewish descent. His displayed a natural talent for arts at a young age, taking drawing and painting classes at his high school and local art institutes during the summer break. He also showed great interest in contemporary music, starting a jazz band as a teenager.
2. He joined the army.
During and after World War II, Lichtenstein served as a draftsman and artist for three years in between completing his BFA degree at Ohio State University.
3. In a flash!
His main tutor at Ohio State University was Hoyt L. Sherman, an American artist and professor, who Lichtenstein greatly credited for his development as an artist, even endowing the Hoyt L. Sherman Studio Art Center at the university in his later life. Sherman had a unique interest in optics and memory, often employing what he termed “the flash-room” to test students (and later soldiers) on image memory. In a dark room, he would flash an image on a screen for only a second or two and then ask participants to sketch or describe what they saw in as full of detail as possible. Lichtenstein referenced this technique as a very important part of his development as a Pop artist.
4. He was one of the most influential Pop artists.
Similar to his contemporaries such as Andy Warhol or Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein worked in a style, technique, and subject that illustrated popular culture and everyday American life. As opposed to the more psychological form and color subject of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art looked at mass culture and mass communication for its themes and subject matter.
5. He was the art world’s cartoonist.
Lichtenstein’s best-known works are his series of comic-strip scenes that display a variety of imaginative and humorous imagery. His style employed Ben-Day dots, bold, primary colors, and graphic outlines – all of which mimicked that of a cartoon style, but at a much larger scale. Whaam! and Drowning Girl, both from 1963, are two of his most famous works.
6. “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?”
Such was the title of a 1964 article in LIFE magazine, which addressed how highly criticized Lichtenstein’s work was for its subject matter and appearance. Many nay-sayers challenged it as unoriginal, copycat, banal art that looked too close to the original source. However, as the Pop Art movement continued to develop, critics began to rethink such negative perceptions and see Lichtenstein’s wit and technique as a true rendering of the movement’s mainstream appeal.
7. He made one film.
Three Landscapes is a three-screen installation that Lichtenstein made in collaboration with filmmaker Joel Freedman during a residency in Los Angeles. The installation is related to a series of landscape collages that Lichtenstein made between 1964 and 1966. The film was originally exhibited in LACMA’s Art and Technology show in 1971. It wasn’t seen again until 2011, when the Whitney Museum and the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation restored the film and showed the film in its original 35mm format.
8. He has a mural in the Times Square subway station.
In 1994, Lichtenstein was commissioned to do a 6 foot x 53 foot enamel-coated mural at one of the largest crossings within the Times Square subway station platforms. The mural speaks to the history of the New York transportation system, the machinist age, and futuristic travel.
9. His work will cost you.
In a Christie’s auction in the fall of 2015, Lichtenstein’s Nurse (1964) broke the artist’s market price record, selling for $95.4 million. The last time the piece was at auction, in 1995, it was sold for $1.7 million.
10. He died in New York City.
Lichtenstein died of pneumonia in 1997 at age 73 in Manhattan. The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation continues to moderate the artist’s work in the public space, protecting its copy right and maintaining a catalogue raisonneé so that future generations can also appreciate the full history of the artist’s life and work.
Feature Image: Roy Lichtenstein, Whaam!, 1963, Source: Tate