Roy Lichtenstein Essay

            Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1923 and died in 1997.  He was an American artist,  painter, sculptor, and print maker. He is best remembered for his Pop art, first introduced in the early 1960s. His formal art studies began in 1939 at the New York Art Students League. He would attend Ohio State University, but his academic career was interrupted by military service. In the United States army he served as a map maker, showing German troop movements. [1]  While in Europe he is accepted at the Sorbonne and manages to study for a few months, accumulating 400 hours, before being recalled by the military. Following World War II, Lichtenstein returned to Ohio State,  Graduating in 1946 with a degree in fine arts. He took his masters degree in fine arts in 1949. He would one day claim no specific influence, but painted for years in the style of modern European artists. He began his career teaching at his alma mater,

Ohio State, leaving in 1951 then moved to Cleveland, Ohio. By 1957 he was teaching at Oswego State College of New York. 1960 saw a move to Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he remained for three years. At this point he would give up his teaching profession to become a full-time artist. [2]  He did not suddenly spring on the scene as a full blown Pop artist. In his long career Roy Lichtenstein made a lasting impression on the art world, never remaining static, but rather growing and expanding beyond the original source of his fame. He was a consummate print makers, and his love for that medium shows in the care with which he would hide brush strokes in his Pop art, using stencils to create a pattern of dots as if the work were made on a printing press. [3]

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His traditional art slowly evolved into the Pop art for which he would become famous. While painting cowboys and Native Americans, he  began to hide comic strip images in his more “serious” works. The occasional Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny would find its way onto the canvas. [4]  From early in his career Lichtenstein was inventive, daring to experiment with a variety of styles and using a wide variety of styles. During his time in Paris he drew constantly and visited the Louvre and other French art venues. Picasso had a profound influence on his work. As a young man he executed a portrait of a man in the manner of Picasso’s Gertrude Stein portrait. He was particularly ”inspired  by Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods, as well as Braque and the Cubist art movement as well as the Expressionist school of art.” [5]  This fact is evident, states Robinson, by the clearly observable use that Lichtenstein made of blues and pinks in his work.

It was in 1956 that Lichtenstein produced a proto-Pop lithograph which was called Ten Dollar Bill. He would rather quickly move ahead with his Pop art work.

By 1960 he was an assistant professor at Rutgers, which was only a secure source of income for the artist, who was married and a father at this juncture. Yet,  perhaps more importantly, it put him in close proximity to the city of New York, which was the art capital of the world. It was here that he met and associated with such art luminaries as Allan Kaprow,  Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Lucas Samaras and George Segal. [6]  He did not participate in their frequent events but rather tended to work alone. Yet, Artchive’s online site opines that this contact with these young Turks revived Lichtenstein’s interest in his Pop work, “and a more immediate stimulus was provided by a challenge from one of his sons, who pointed to a Mickey Mouse comic book and said; ‘I bet you can’t paint as good as that.” [7]   in 1961 he painted six works taken from comic-strips, using a format of a comic-strip frame. He changed his work very little from the actual colors found in the original material.

In 1961 Lichtenstein produced about six paintings showing characters from comic-strip frames, with only minor changes of color and form from the original source material.

 It was in 1962 that he would arrive unannounced at the Gallery of Leo Castelli, carrying on of his  He was accepted almost immediately and given exhibition space. This, interestingly,  came at the expense of Andy Warhol,  who was doing similar work. By the next year Castelli produced a one-man-show for him and his career was virtually assured. From that point on he was extraordinarily successful. By 1963 he was able to give up teaching to paint and do his art on a full time basis. He took a leave of absence from Rutgers and moved to New York City. By 1964 he resigned from teaching completely. The Venice, Italy Le Biennale accepted his works in 1966.  1969 saw his works in the Guggenheim as a retrospective, which would then tour the United States.

Again, Roy Lichtenstein did not stand still in his career, but rather kept reinventing himself. In 1973 he began to create a series of trompe-l’oeil utilizing faux-wood grained patterns, along with Cubist Still Lifes,. He included quotations taken from some of his earlier cartoon style Pop art, specifically, Look Mickey, circa 1961. The 80s saw his experimentation with abstract expressionism. The 90s witnessed his use of sponges on canvas. According to his website, on “September 29, 1997 Roy Lichtenstein dies at New York University Medical Center in Manhattan from complications due to pneumonia.” [8]

Pop art began in the 1950s in the United States and Great Britain at roughly the same time. It was a shock to the viewing public,  that was not accustomed to seeing their popular culture displayed on canvas and hanging on a museum wall. Warhol did his soup cans and his Marilyn Monroe. Lichtenstein did his cartoons. Jasper Johns painted an American flag and asked if it was art, or if it was really a flag. According to the Art History Archive “The movement was marked by clear lines, sharp paintwork and clear representations of symbols, objects and people commonly found in popular culture.” [9]  Tilman Osterwald, writing in his 2003 book, Pop Art, that Lichtenstein helped to “revitalize the psychology of banal situations found in the comic strip”, which is, he points out, “one of the most successful genres of popular entertainment”. [10]

This movement shocked the public, and the cry was heard that Pop art was not, in fact, art at all. Obviously that is not true. But can the question be asked as to whether it is fine art, or if it is folk art? Again, obviously, patrons of the art, arbiters of all that is in good taste, those who spent millions on Pop art, would laugh at such a thought. According to an old tale, there were those unable to see that the king was actually naked. Overall, art is whatever anyone wishes to call art, and it is worth what ever someone is willing to pay for it. Irrespective of what Osterwald may say, sometimes a picture painted to make a statement on banality can be just as banal. Pop art is clever, but too often superficial.

                                          References

Artelino nd  Roy Lichtenstein  Retrieved 5-03-09 from:

           http://www.artelino.com/articles/roy_lichtenstein.asp

Art History Archive nd  Movements: Pop Art  Retrieved 5-04-09 from:

              http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/popart/

Notable Biographies  nd Roy Lichtenstein Biography Retrieved 5-5-09 from:

              http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ki-Lo/Lichtenstein-Roy.html

Osterwald, T. 2003  Pop Art: Taschen 25th Anniversary  Bonn: VG Bild

                       Kunst

Robinson, K. 2007 Roy Lichtenstein Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

              http://www.brown.edu/Courses/CG11/2007/Kelly_Robinson/

The Artchive  nd  Roy Lichtenstein Retrieved 5-04-09 from:

              http://www.artchive.com/artchive/L/lichtenstein.html

The Roy Lichtentstein Foundation 2007 Chronology: 1957  Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

              http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org/frames.htm

The Roy Lichentstein Foundation 2007 Chronology: 1997

Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

                        http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org/frames.htm

[1]  Notable Biographies  nd Roy Lichtenstein Biography Retrieved 5-5-09 from:

              http://www.notablebiographies.com/Ki-Lo/Lichtenstein-Roy.html
[2]   Ibidem
[3]    Artelino nd  Roy Lichtenstein  Retrieved 5-03-09 from:

                http://www.artelino.com/articles/roy_lichtenstein.asp
[4]   The Roy Lichtentstein Foundation 2007 Chronology: 1957  Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

              http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org/frames.htm
[5]    Robinson, K. 2007 Roy Lichtenstein Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

              http://www.brown.edu/Courses/CG11/2007/Kelly_Robinson/
[6]   The Artchive  nd  Roy Lichtenstein Retrieved 5-04-09 from:

              http://www.artchive.com/artchive/L/lichtenstein.html
[7]   Ibidem
[8]   The Roy Lichentstein Foundation 2007 Chronology: 1997  Retrieved 5-4-09 from:

              http://www.lichtensteinfoundation.org/frames.htm
[9]   Art History Archive nd  Movements: Pop Art  Retrieved 5-04-09 from:

              http://www.arthistoryarchive.com/arthistory/popart/
[10]   Osterwald, T. 2003  Pop Art: Taschen 25th Anniversary  Bonn: VG Bild Kunst