Artist: Roy Lichtenstein
Title: "Untitled Modern Drawing"
Size: 23" x 31"
Medium: Charcoal cold press paper
Roy Fox Lichtenstein (American 1923–1997)
Roy Lichtenstein is one of the key figures of the Pop Art movement in America along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and James Rosenquist. Lichtenstein was born in 1923 in New York to an upper-middle-class Jewish family. He showed an affinity for art from a young age, and later went to Ohio University where he was able to take art classes. Lichtenstein was drafted into the US Army in 1943 and served for three years, before returning to Ohio University, where he completed his studies and later worked as an art instructor.
In 1951, he had his first solo show at the Carlebach Gallery in New York. In these early phases of his career, he painted in an abstract style, which was then dominant in America. He incorporated cartoon characters like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in some of his early works that were later destroyed. In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein fully embraced these themes, making an artistic breakthrough with the painting Look Mickey (1961). Lichtenstein appropriated the scene from popular culture, showing the two Disney icons, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in a humorous situation. This marked the emergence of his signature style, which drew inspiration from mass-produced popular images in comic books and advertisements.
Comic books were one of the primary sources for Lichtenstein’s paintings in the early 1960s. In paintings like Bratatat! (1963) and Sleeping girl (1964) he imitated the tradition of comic strips: the thick black lines that outline areas of primary colors and uniform area of Ben-Day dots that were used in the printing process of inexpensive publications. The hand-painted Ben-Day dots became a signature element of Lichtenstein’s style, allowing him to incorporate the look of mechanical reproduction into the traditional medium of painting. He found the style of comic books particularly appealing because it allowed him to depict emotionally charged subject matters, like love and war in a detached and calculated manner. The paintings brought Lichtenstein mainstream success, but initially, he also received harsh criticism. He was accused of counterfeiting commercial images and was even called one of the worst artists in America.
Even though Lichtenstein turned away from comic book motifs in the mid-1960s, he continued to emulate the aesthetic and style of popular imagery. Lichtenstein began exploring art as the subject matter of his paintings by recreating masterpieces of artists like Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, and Vincent Van Gogh. He reinterpreted these works in his Pop art style, and in paintings like Modern Art I (1996) Lichtenstein reevaluated the legacy of Picasso and the Cubist movement. These paintings had elements of irony and parody, but they were mainly homages. Modern Art I adapted Cubist painting to a contemporary society, dominated by mass-produced commercial images. In his art, Lichtenstein bridged between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art: he combined the style of commercial imagery with the traditional medium of painting.
Although Lichtenstein was primarily known as a painter, he worked in other media like sculpture and printmaking. Throughout his career, he received a major commission for artworks in public spaces. Among these is Mural with Blue Brushstroke (1986) in the atrium of the Equitable Tower in New York City and El Cap de Barcelona (1991-1992) created for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. In August 1997, Lichtenstein fell ill with pneumonia and died unexpectedly on September 29, 1997, of complications from the disease.