Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was an American pop artist who came to prominence during the 1960s with his paintings influenced by the comic strip and advertising. Lichtenstein, along with contemporaries Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist, was a leading figure in the ‘Pop’ movement. Although pre-eminently identified as a pop artist, Lichtenstein is now regarded as one of the most influential and innovative artists of the latter half of the twentieth century.
During the 1940s and 50s Lichtenstein’s artwork focused on mythology and folklore, paying homage to previous art movements. In the late 1950s he began to incorporate famous cartoon characters into his paintings – this was both a commentary on American popular culture and a reaction to the recent success of Abstract-Expressionist paintings by Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.
However, instead of painting abstract and subject-less canvases, like Pollock, Lichtenstein took his imagery directly from comic books and advertising – mimicking his borrowed sources right down to an impersonal-looking stencil process that imitated mechanical printing used for commercial art.
Lichtenstein was initially unfavourable with art critics as they often neglected the painstaking, yet mechanical, techniques behind his style. Although he wanted his works to resemble machine-commercial printing processes, every thick outline, Ben-day dot, and gradient was produced by hand and stencil. In recent years, the broadcast-journalist Susan Stamberg observed that Lichtenstein “was painting digital pixels before there were pixels.”
In 1964 he gained a wider audience after creating a comic-inspired mural for the New York State Pavilion for the World’s Fair, and went on to be represented by the legendary Italian-American art dealer and gallerist, Leo Castelli.
In the 1970s his focus turned to creating paintings that referred to the art of early 20th century masters like Picasso, Henri Matisse, Fernand Léger and Salvador Dalí. In the 1980s and 90s, he also painted representations of modern house interiors, brushstrokes and mirror reflections, all in his trademark, cartoon-like style. He also began working in sculpture.
In the 1980s, he received several major large-scale commissions, including a 25-foot-high sculpture titled "Brushstrokes in Flight" for the Port Columbus International Airport in Columbus, Ohio and a five-storey-tall mural for the lobby of the Equitable Tower in New York.
Lichtenstein was committed to his art until the end of his life, often spending over 10 hours a day in his studio. His work was acquired by major museum collections around the world, and he received numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1995.
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