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Contemporary Art

21 Facts About Roy Lichtenstein

By Annikka Olsen

1. Roy Lichtenstein w as born in New York City in 1923, and grew up on the Upper West Side. His father, Milton, was a real-estate broker, and his mother, Beatrice, was a homemaker.

2. When he was a teenager, Lichtenstein took watercolor painting classes at the Parsons School of Design.

3. He had a deep interest in music, and played both the clarinet and piano. In high school, he started and played in a jazz band.

4. While still a teenager, Lichtenstein took classes at the Art Students League, studying under Reginald Marsh who was famed for his depictions of New York City life. His work from this period closely resembles Marsh’s Social Realist style.

The American painter and exponent of Pop Art, Roy Lichtenstein, is sitting at a table and is attentively looking through some magazines; over his shoulder some of his artwork. 1964.
Roy Lichtenstein is sitting at a table looking through an art book, 1964. Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images

5. He enrolled at Ohio State University in 1940, and studied a wide variety of subjects, including drawing, design, botany, history, and literature. He also took a class with Hoyt L. Sherman, also an artist, whose teachings concerning “organized perception” were highly influential for Lichtenstein.

6. Lichtenstein was drafted into the Army in 1943. Initially, as part of his training, he completed courses in engineering at De Paul University in Chicago, before serving as a clerk and draftsman across Europe. After receiving an honorable discharge in 1946, he was able to complete his degree in Fine Arts at Ohio State University. He then enrolled in a graduate program at the University, where he worked as an art instructor.

“I take a cliché and try to organize its forms to make it monumental. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial."
Roy Lichtenstein
 
 

7. He was included in a group exhibition at Ten-Thirty Gallery in Cleveland, which is where he met his first wife Isabel Wilson, who was working as a gallery assistant there. They were wed in 1949 and divorced in 1967.

8. In 1951, Lichtenstein had his first solo show in New York. Held at the Carlebach Gallery, it was also the first time he exhibited three-dimensional works; these were assemblages made of found objects, wood, and metal parts.

9. He invented a type of rotating easel, so as to be able to paint from different angles. Saying of the mobility this easel offered, Lichtenstein said, “I paint my own pictures upside down or sideways. I often don’t even remember what most of them are about. The subjects aren’t what hold my interest.”

10. In 1957 he accepted an offer for assistant professorship at State University New York at Oswego. This move largely marks the period in his career where his work, painted thickly and highly abstracted, was most heavily inspired by Abstract Expressionism.

Roy Lichtenstein | 'The Ring (Engagement),' 1962
Roy Lichtenstein, The Ring (Engagement) , 1962. Sold at Sotheby's New York for $41.7 million in May 2015.

11. After accepting an assistant professorship at Rutgers’s Douglas College in 1960, Lichtenstein met the performance artist Allan Kaprow. Through Kaprow, he met several other important artists, including Claes Oldenburg and George Segal, among others.

12. The painting Look Mickey, created in 1961, was the first cartoon work Lichtenstein made that utilized Ben-Day dots, the stylistic technique he is most famous for. It is currently in the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

13. He further developed his artistic process, ultimately settling on a process where he would draw a cartoon subject by hand, then project his handiwork onto canvas, and finally fill the composition with stenciled Ben-Day dots and vivid color.

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14. The same year he created Look Mickey, 1961, he joined the roster of the prestigious Leo Castelli gallery in New York City. The following year the gallery presented a solo exhibition of his work, which was a great success both in terms of the fame it garnered him as well as financially.

15. His cartoon, Ben-Day dot compositions were in many ways highly controversial at the time. Many critics could not understand their artistic value, leading LIFE Magazine to publish an article titled “Is [Lichtenstein] the Worst Artist in the U.S.?”

16. Lichtenstein was clearly aware of the kitsch aspect to his work, once saying, “I take a cliché and try to organize its forms to make it monumental. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial."

Roy Lichtenstein with one of his paintings, 1964.
Roy Lichtenstein with one of his paintings, 1964. www.bridgemanimages.com

17. Moving into the 1960s, he maintained his graphic, cartoon-based style, and was continuously shown within major national exhibitions, which ultimately solidified his leading place within the Pop art movement alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist.

18. His first, large-scale mural was created for the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens.

19. In the 1960s, Lichtenstein expanded his practice to include things beyond just painting. Often he would incorporate industrial materials, like Plexiglas and Rowlux, into his works. Further, he began working with ceramics and sculpture, one of his most iconic works being a series of freestanding, cartoon aesthetic brushstrokes of color.

Nude woman sunbathing rendered in Lichtenstein's trademark benday-dot style.
Roy Lichtenstein, Nude Sunbathing , 1995. Sold at Sotheby’s New York for $24 million in May 2017.

20. In 1969. he began making large numbers of prints, even collaborating with the acclaimed print studio Gemini G.E.L..

21. In 1999, nearly two years after his death in 1997, the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation was established; its mission has been to create a comprehensive catalogue raisonné as well as enable easy public access to his oeuvre.

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