"Abstract Expressionists put things down on the canvas and responded
to what they had done, to the color positions and sizes. My style looks
completely different, but the nature of putting down lines pretty much
is the same; mine just don't come out looking calligraphic, like
Pollock's or Kline's." -Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein, American painter, sculptor, and printmaker, startled the art world in 1962 by exhibiting paintings based on comic book cartoons. Roy Lichtenstein was the master of the stereotype, and the most sophisticated of the major Pop artists in terms of his analysis of visual convention and his ironic exploitation of past styles. The work for which he is now known was the product of a long apprenticeship.
Roy Lichtenstein grew up under no specific artistic influence, neither at home nor at school. But at the age of 14 he attended a painting class at Parson's School of Design every Saturday morning. From 1940 to 1943 Roy Lichtenstein studied in New York at the Art Students' League. Then he was drafted to the US Army and served in Europe during War II.
Back from the army, Lichtenstein studied at the Ohio State University from 1946 and received his M.A. in 1949. Like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein worked in the commercial graphic business for a while, making designs and decorating shop windows. From 1957 on, Roy Lichtenstein taught at different universities.
In 1951 Lichtenstein had a show in New York consisting largely of assemblages made of found objects. Roy Lichtenstein moved to Cleveland and worked on and off as an engineering draughtsman for various companies while continuing to paint and intermittently show his work in New York.
Roy Lichtenstein's earliest proto-Pop work was painted in 1956, a picture of a dollar bill, but it had no immediate successor. From 1957 until 1960 Lichtenstein's work could, broadly speaking, be classified as Abstract Expressionist; he had previously passed through Geometric Abstraction and a version of Cubism. In 1960 Roy Lichtenstein was appointed Assistant Professor at Douglas College at Rutgers University of New Jersey, which put him within striking distance of New York.
Roy Lichtenstein met and had long discussions with Allan Kaprow, and he also met Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Lucas Samaras and George Segal. From 1951 to about 1957 Lichtenstein's paintings dealt with themes of the American West, such as cowboys, Native Americans, and the like, created in a style similar to that of modern European painters. Roy Lichtenstein attended a number of early 'Happenings', but did not participate in them actively. These contacts revived his interest in Pop imagery.
The drastic change in Lichtenstein's career came with his first painting in the style of a comic strip. Roy Lichtenstein's first work to feature the large-scale use of hard-edged figures and Benday Dots was” Look Mickey”(featured here) in 1961. This artwork design came from 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, eh, Dad?" That year Roy Lichtenstein began hiding images of comic strip figures (such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny) in his paintings.
In 1961 Roy 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 at this time that he first made use of devices which were to become signatures in his work - Ben-Day dots, lettering and speech balloons.
Roy Lichtenstein took in his comic-strip paintings unannounced to the new Leo Castelli Gallery, and was almost immediately accepted for exhibition there, in preference to Andy Warhol, who had started doing similar work. Roy Lichtenstein's first one-man show with Castelli in 1962 launched him on a career which was thereafter uniformly successful. The entire collection was bought by influential collectors of the time before the show even opened.
In 1963 Roy Lichtenstein moved from New Jersey to New York, having taken leave of absence from his job at Rutgers. Lichtenstein used oil and Magna paint in his best known works, such as Drowning Girl (shown above), which was appropriated from the lead story in DC Comics. His work also featured thick outlines, bold colors and Benday Dots to represent certain colors, as if created by photographic reproduction.
When Roy Lichtenstein's work was first released, many art critics of the time challenged its originality. More often than not they were making no attempt to be positive. Lichtenstein responded to such claims by offering responses such as the following: "The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content". "However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different. I think my paintings are critically transformed, but it would be difficult to prove it by any rational line of argument".
Roy Lichtenstein's comic book art themes were of passion, romance, science fiction, violence, and war. In these paintings, Roy Lichtenstein uses the commercial art methods: projectors magnify spray-gun stencils, creating dots to make the pictures look like newspaper cartoons seen through a magnifying glass.
In the late 1960's Roy Lichtenstein turned to design elements and the commercial art of the 1930s, as if to explore the history of pop art.