The pop art pioneer combined skillful picture-making with canny appropriation
Roy Lichtenstein (1923–1997) is not an artist whose work waits patiently for you to notice it. With their replication of commercial printing processes, unadulterated primary colors, large scale, melodramatic flair and unsettlingly incomplete narratives, his paintings reach out and grab you, whether you’re ready for them or not.
A painting by Diebenkorn — to name a near-contemporary with a similarly distinct sensibility — sits outside on the porch, waiting for you to stroll over and share the view.
A painting by Lichtenstein calls you up in the middle of the night and hysterically sobs that it can’t live without you, Brad.
Pop Star Timeline
Raised in New York City, Lichtenstein studied at the Art Students League of New York and Ohio State University. And as a young artist, he worked in expressionist and abstract modes.
In the early 1960s he began painting images derived from comics — dialogue bubbles and all. He painted them on a large scale, making the dots used in commercial printing individually visible.
His subjects were melodramatic in the extreme, taking cues from dime-store fiction, advertising and Surrealism in roughly equal measure.
These paintings shot Lichtenstein to national prominence. He became, along with Andy Warhol, one of the foremost practitioners of pop art.
In subsequent years his practice evolved to include other interpretations of mass-produced imagery and modern culture. He also produced significant bodies of work in printmaking and sculpture.
Lichtenstein’s style is so distinctive and his work so immediately identifiable that it can be easy to overlook his craftsmanship and his skill at composition.
His paintings offer bountiful visual rewards, guiding our eyes with swooping contours and tightly defined, dynamic shapes. For paintings that trumpet their own artificiality, they possess a remarkable sense of motion.
In Lichtenstein we can celebrate an artist who took what he wanted from art, from mass media and from the world around him and used this to invent a visual and emotional universe unmistakably his own. His paintings are dispatches from a world that is pure pop. More important, it’s also pure Lichtenstein.
Article written by Austin Williams.