Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City’s Manhattan Upper West Side in 1923. He was part of an upper class Jewish family, his father, Milton Lichtenstein a real estate broker, and his mother, Beatrice Lichtenstein, a homemaker. Lichtenstein became interested in art during his teen years, finding himself drawn to science and comic books while attending the Franklin Secondary School for Boys in Manhattan, graduating in 1940. The first art classes Lichtenstein took were at the Parsons School of Design during his high school years. Here, he took courses in watercolor before seeking more artistic exploration at the Art Students League of New York during the summer following his senior year. Following his graduation from Franklin, Lichtenstein went on to Ohio State University, where he began to pursue his undergraduate and masters degrees in fine arts. In 1943, however, Lichtenstein was drafted for World War II, forcing him to put his studies on hold for two years. Following his tenure in the service, Lichtenstein returned to Ohio State, ultimately receiving his M.F.A in 1949. Following his graduation from Ohio, Lichtenstein began teaching at the New York State College of Education at Oswego. Not long after, he taught at Douglass College, a division of Rutgers University in New Jersey. Regarding his personal life, Lichtenstein married twice, first to Isabel in 1947, with whom he had two sons and divorced in 1967, and then to Dorothy Herzla in 1968. In 1997, Lichtenstein died as a result of complications with pneumonia in New York.
Influence and Style
Lichtenstein’s first artistic mentor was Reginald Marsh, who’s subject matter influenced him during his time at the Art Students League of New York. Marsh’s infatuation was with social realism– basing much of his work on the American working class and the poor, particularly during the Great Depression. Marsh’s perspective bled into Lichtenstein’s conscience as he would go on to work with the appeal of the middle and lower classes in mind. Following his service in World War II, Lichtenstein met at Ohio State a man named Hoyt L. Sherman, who would become his second artistic influence. Sherman, Lichtenstein’s Fine Arts professor at Ohio, introduced Lichtenstein to what he called the “flash room”, which was a darkened room where he would briefly flash images onto a screen for his students to draw what they had seen. This method of quickly grasping an image and recreating it was one Lichtenstein employed for the remainder of his artistic career.
Aside from Marsh and Sherman, Lichtenstein’s main influence came from comic books, advertising, and other visuals associated with popular culture as this is what appealed to the general public.
In the 1940’s, before employing the Pop Art style we remember him for most, Lichtenstein worked with mythology, American History, and folklore, paying homage to the artistic styles of the 18th century. This was most likely the result of his time spent studying under Reginald Marsh, who shared his fascination with the works of Raphael, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and the remainder of “the old masters”.
It was in the 1960’s– during his time at Rutgers– that Lichtenstein began experimenting with popular culture imagery and post Abstract Expressionism. A prime example of his work during this period is his 1963 piece, “Whaam!”, in which Lichtenstein used a 1962 issue of DC Comic’s All American Men of War as inspiration. Lichtenstein also illustrated cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as well as commercial items, solidifying his role as a leading figure of the Pop Art Movement.
Roy Lichtenstein’s style took yet another turn during the ’70’s as he began creating adaptations of early 20th Century artists such as Picasso, Matisse, and Dali in his trademark cartoon style. As the creative phase of his artistic career approached its conclusion, Lichtenstein worked with sculpture, one of his pieces being “Brushstrokes in Flight”,a 25 foot tall sculpture for display at the Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio.
Pop Art Movement
While Pop Art has its origins in Britain, American Pop Art arose during the late 1950’s and mid 1960’s. Pop Art was a response to the multitude of events taking place in America at the time– a post World War II society, the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the tension it created between the government and its youth, women’s liberation. Such social turbulence gave rise to a spirit of experimentation and consumerism– pushing the limits and finding the ropes.Artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol embodied the Pop Artist by capturing this idea of consumerism and the mob mentality of popular culture with their use of bold primary colors and cartoon illustrations, appealing to the common man or woman, all the while incorporating fine art techniques in their compositions. A big divergence that can be seen in Pop Art from Abstract Expressionism is the absence of subjective emotion evoked by the abstract works of Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell– the message of most Pop Artists’ work was very clear and straightforward. This blunt nature of Pop Art bred a sense of irony, wit, and humor in the movement.
In my youth, I was an avid comic book reader, so seeing Lichtenstein’s comic inspired illustrations gave me a sense of nostalgia. As a whole, I find Pop Art quite appealing for its accessibility, appealing to people from all walks of life. Simultaneously, paying close attention, I have seen that each composition has its own message, as with Roy Lichtenstein’s work. A piece by Lichtenstein that stood out to me was his 1962 painting he called “Tire”. I appreciate its chromatic simplicity– something I rarely see as I look through Lichtenstein’s collection. Also, a quality to overlook is the sheer size of this piece, 68×58 inches.
21st Century Comparison
Born June 16th, 1957 in Tuscon, Arizona, Raymond Pettibon is an artist who currently lives and works in New York City. He is known for his comic like drawings with text sometimes ambiguous or disturbing. Similar to Lichtenstein, Pettibon’s works are meant to appeal to wide range of people, encompassing the umbrella that is American culture. He started publishing his drawings in photocopied booklets in 1978, roughly ten years after Lichtenstein’s final Pop Art composition. One of my favorites of Pettibon is “The Truth is Out There”, which he released in 2000. It is a self portrait he created as a lithogram, illustrating the thoughts that travel through his head in solitude.
Lanchner, Carolyn, comp. Roy Lichtenstein. New York: Museum of Modern Art, n.d.
The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2014.
Sollins, Susan. Art 21: Art in the Twenty First Century. N.p.: n.p., 2001.