Roy Lichtenstein


Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) was an American artist born in New York City. He epitomized pop art, and brought popular culture into fine art. Personally, he described his pop art as industrial painting. Pop Art started in the ’50s and referred to the interest of a number of artists in the images of mass media, advertising, comics and consumer products.

Pop Art Contemporaries

Other key players in the pop art movement included Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, David Hockney, Wayne Thiebaud, Keith Haring, and Sigmar Polke.

Lichtenstein’s Famous Pop Art

Roy Lichtenstein became famous for his comic-strip style paintings such as “Whaam”, “Torpedo . . . los!”, “Grrrrrrrrrrr!!”, his series of crying women, features of Tintin, and his New York graffiti, or murals.

art by Roy Lichtenstein
(part of original painting to show Lichtenstein’s style)

Roy acknowledged that his ideas on perception by Fine Arts professor Hoyt Sherman, Ohio State University, were his earliest important art influence, and that his ideas continued to affect his ideas of visual unity over time. This professor used a “flash room”. This was a dark room where images would be briefly flashed onto the screen. Students were supposed to draw what they had seen – a method of grasping an image by copying it. Roy received his MFA from Ohio State in 1949, and subsequently taught at the same university. In 1957 he started teaching in upstate New York.

Lichtenstein’s earlier artwork switches between Cubism and Expressionism. 1957 was a turning point for Roy when he adopted Abstract Expressionism. In 1961, Lichtenstein commenced his now-famous Pop Art style, using comic strip images: displaying hard edge figurative close-ups, and applying his famous painting technique of using Benday dots, sourced from commercial printing.

Lichtenstein’s most famous works were created in the early ’60s. In this phase of his career, he was a cartoon copyist. However, he changed scale, color, treatment and implication. (A convincing project by David Barsalou reviewed 30,000+ comic strips, uncovering the strip images that Lichtenstein used in his artwork.

The shows many source strip book artwork and Lichtenstein paintings side-by-side.) Anyhow, Lichtenstein stopped copying cartoons in 1965.

His art made in the ’70s and ’80s with a much looser style of art, displaying surrealism. He also created hundreds of screen prints in this period.

In 1996, Lichtenstein donated 154 prints and 2 books to the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. With this huge donation, the museum now holds the largest collection of this artist’s work. Other museums holding his work include the Tate in London; SF Moma, in San Francisco; MoMa, Guggenheim and The Met in NYC. And then there is of course the gallery that represented him, Leo Castelli Gallery, also in NYC. There are an estimated 4,500 of Lichtenstein’s works in circulation, shared between private collectors and museums around the world.

The Increasing Value of Lichtenstein’s Art

Lichtenstein’s artwork has been in demand for decades, capturing increasing value. In 1989, Torpedo…Los! sold for a record $5.5m at Christie’s. This sale make Roy Lichtenstein 1 of 3 living artists to have attracted such huge sums. In 1990, a second record price for a Lichtenstein work was set when ‘Kiss II’ was sold for $6m.

In 2002, that record for Lichtenstein was broken when another work ‘Happy Tears’ sold for $7.1m at Christie’s in New York. ‘Happy Tears’ (1964) is a pop art painting of a smiling women with tears. In 2006, Lichtenstein’s ‘Sinking Sun’ (1964) was sold for $15.7m at the modern art auction at Sotheby’s in New York. New York gallery L&M Arts purchased the work. This artwork is considered as ‘one of the greatest icons of the 20th Century’.

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