Roy Lichtenstein was an American painter, print-maker, sculptor and a leading figure of the Pop Art movement. He is best known for his graphic work based on comic strips and advertising, parodying both the art world and larger popular culture.
Early Life and Education
Born in New York City in October 1923, Roy Fox Lichtenstein’s father was a successful real estate developer and mother a homemaker. The family belonged to America’s burgeoning upper class Jewish community and lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where Lichtenstein grew up immersed in science and comic books. He attended public school till 1935 and then transferred to the Franklin School for Boys for the remainder of his education.
Lichtenstein was an ardent fan of jazz music, often sneaking into Harlem’s Apollo Theater to draw portraits of the musicians and their instruments. He began taking classes at the Parsons School of Design at the age of 14, focusing on watercolor techniques, before enrolling at the Art Students League to study under realist painter Reginald Marsh in the summer of 1940.
After graduating high school, he was admitted to the Ohio State University in Columbus where they offered degrees in fine art as well as various studio courses. His college career was cut short, however, by the outbreak of World War II. Lichtenstein was drafted and called to service in Europe.
He returned to university in 1946 to study under Hoyt L. Sherman and earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in fine arts. After a brief interlude as a teacher at his alma mater, he moved to Cleveland to design window-displays for a department store, and later took up freelance assignments in industrial design. During his time in Cleveland, he met Isabel Wilson, the former wife of artist Michael Sarisky, and they married in 1949, two years before Lichtenstein’s debut exhibition at the Carlebach Gallery in New York.
Development as an Artist
For six years, he lived in Cleveland with his family, becoming a father for the first time in 1954, and then again in ’56. And he continued to paint, developing a style derived from commercial printing and comic books, at once sardonic of modern American life and referential to art history. He was offered a teaching position at the State University at Oswego and left Cleveland for upstate New York in 1958.
Rutgers University invited Lichtenstein to become a faculty member in 1960. His friendship with fellow teacher Allan Kaprow helped revive the artist’s interest in Proto-pop imagery and, during this period, he began experimenting with Abstract Expressionism, integrating hidden images of popular cartoon characters into his abstract canvases. The Leo Castelli Gallery began exhibiting his work the following year, eventually leading to a solo show focusing on isolated household objects in 1962. The paintings sold out before they were even open to the public. Amidst his sudden success, his marriage broke up and the couple divorced in the mid-1960s.
Prime of His Career
Lichtenstein’s work became increasingly popular through the 1960s. The refusal to reflect the inner life of the artist and instead work within the impersonal, mechanical style of commercial printing was seen as a commentary on the new consumerism of contemporary America.
He used a combination of oil and magna paint to create an illusion of photographic reproduction in paintings such as “Whaam!” and “Drowning Girl”, which are probably his most famous works from this period. There was a sense of the subversive in his deadpan humor and the fact that his career was built on a series of mass-produced images. He became a recognized leader in the Pop Art movement along with Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, although critics debated the originality and value of his work. Nonetheless, he remained in demand amongst art dealers and collectors alike.
From 1970 onwards, Lichtenstein divided his time between New York and Southampton, where he had purchased a carriage house with an ocean view the previous year. His lived the rest of his life in relative seclusion, following various creative impulses disparate from his previous work, including “The Modern Paintings” series, “Still Life” and “Mirrors”. He received a number of large-scale sculptural commissions in the 1980s, most notably the 4.5-meter high “Brushstrokes in Flight” for the international airport in Columbus.
He died of pneumonia in September 1997 after weeks of hospitalization at the New York University Medical Center. He left a series of unfinished nudes.
Date of Birth: October 27, 1923
Date of Death: September 29, 1997
Place of Birth: New York, New York
Occupation: Painter, Sculptor, Print-Maker
Movement: Pop Art
Works exhibited at:
Museum of Modern Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Art Institute of Chicago
The National Gallery of Art
Museum Ludwig in Cologne
National Gallery of Australia’s Kenneth Tyler Collection
LOTS SOLD (1989 - 2009)
TOTAL SALES (1989 - 2009)
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