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Collections> Browse Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein
Holdings (196)
1 painting, 7 multiples, 1 model, 1 sculpture, 177 edition prints/proofs, 3 posters, 3 preparatory materials for works on paper, 2 unique works on paper, 1

Wikipedia About Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein (October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was a prominent American pop artist. During the 1960s, his paintings were exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York City and along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, James Rosenquist and others he became a leading figure in the new art movement. His work defined the basic premise of pop art better than any other through parody. Favoring the old-fashioned comic strip as subject matter, Lichtenstein produced hard-edged, precise compositions that documented while it parodied often in a tongue-in-cheek humorous manner. His work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style. He described Pop Art as, “not ‘American’ painting but actually industrial painting”. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Roy Lichtenstein, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

After working through several experimental idioms, Roy Lichtenstein started scrapbooking advertising and comic art. Overnight he turned fuzzy pulp illustrations into Pop icons, becoming one of that movement’s leading lights. It was 1961, and he was thirty-eight. Abstract Expressionism had founded New York School One; Pop Art and Minimalism initiated New York School Two.

The leap from One to Two took most collectors and curators by surprise. They failed to recognize that American innovation is not a conquering Cyclops but a Hydra whose several heads fight it out amongst themselves; there were, of course, winners and losers in the battle to be named most influential. Pollock’s clotted tangles of puddles and drips, Rothko’s sweeping fields of open color and unfocused form—these defined the extremes of Abstract Expressionism, and their utter eccentricity made a new American art but proposed no next step. Willem de Kooning’s Women and Abstract Landscape canvases, though, were important to Rauschenberg, Johns, Oldenburg, and Lichtenstein—all of whom saw that de Kooning offered a way of working that did not exclude the possibility of linear structure. This is what we might call drawing, and what Lichtenstein called design.

Artist’s Studio No. 1 (Look Mickey), an ambitious canvas from 1973, revisits several of Lichtenstein’s earlier motifs: from 1961, a stretch sofa, Donald Duck painting, rotary telephone, and paneled door; a 1970 Mirror painting, which defines the side wall; a meager dentil molding from the 1971 Entablature paintings running along the ceiling. Quotes from his 1972 Still Life paintings litter the floor—a Matisse pewter jug, a gaggle of grapefruit and bananas, a sculptor’s modeling stand, a wall-to-wall carpet of diagonal stripes. In a 1973 interview the artist said he took on two-tone stripes as nothing much more than an alternative to benday dots.1 Both were mechanical devices for spreading a percentage of broken color on a white ground. Here, the carpet is fifty percent black, as is the verso of a painting leaning against the door (a take on the artist’s 1968 Stretcher Frame). That’s the tour.

The disorder of the composition is disconcerting. Objects are spread rather evenly but seem not to relate to one another. This reflects the painting’s point of departure, Matisse’s 1911 classic Red Studio. The central irony is that Artist’s Studio No. 1 (Look Mickey) is both an homage to Matisse and a retrospective look at Lichtenstein’s own career. This is an original but not difficult idea: Lichtenstein is not as philosophical as his fans think he is, and he never intended to redefine Western painting. Like Flemish masters of domestic interiors and still lifes, he paints what is familiar and what he likes. For Lichtenstein, as for Matisse and Picasso, using devices such as dislocation of scale, short-circuit of memory, or even the effete dogmas of abstraction does not diminish an obsession with the ordinary, the knowable, the comfortable. Like most artists of the 1960s, he assumes you already know this is a rogue’s gallery of previous work. Matisse’s assumptions were similarly solipsistic.

Always identified as a person of Pop, Lichtenstein sometimes dips in and out of Minimalism, a direction most exquisitely evident in his limited-edition graphics. Here we see pictorial reductivism, anonymous surface, industrial precision, even an occasional portfolio of variations on a single construct.2 When interviewed about his 1969 Haystack and Cathedral portfolios, the artist dubbed the precision dot patterns “manufactured Monets,” “an industrial way of making Impressionism … a machinelike technique.”3 The 1973 Bull prints make hash of the then-current notion that Minimalism, heir to the Cubist-Constructivist pontificate, is utterly intellectual because of its pure geometry. Inspired by Theo van Doesburg’s four dairy cow paintings (which he’d seen illustrated in Cubism and Abstract Art),4 Lichtenstein’s bulls morph from realistic to abstract, beginning with an image of a Hereford steer he found in the Los Angeles Yellow Pages. Reversing van Doesburg, Lichtenstein’s archetypal steers lead to progressively more complex Cubist-Constructivist concoctions.

Lichtenstein’s 1965–1966 monster brushstrokes are like fluttering muses in the artist’s career. They make only nominal reference to his own painterly abstractions of 1960 and present images more obviously invented than anything he’d done to that point. Most often he painted on acetate taped down to glass on an opaque projector, working the strokes into invented configurations.5 The big brushstrokes in his 1967 show at the Walker Art Center deeply impressed then-Director Martin Friedman; nearly two decades later, when the museum planned to present an exhibition of his recent sculptures,6 Friedman commissioned Lichtenstein to work up a four-stroke maquette as a proposal for a high-rise monument. The twenty-five-foot stack in painted aluminum was christened Salute to Painting (1985–1986). Here Abstract Expressionist gestures seem to lunge upward at one angle, then cascade down at another. A rotating motion is implied during daylight hours, when sunlight transforms its shape into an oddly totemic column, like a flagpole fully swaddled in bunting. Salute to Painting’s erratic weld joints give improbable upright gravitational balance and structural stability. Ah, the provoking irony: the artist transforms swaths of liquid paint into flat graphics, pops out ridges and edges into shallow relief, then stacks them up in assemblage fashion like a standing Allegory of Painterly Painting: a kind of Pop paean to the earlier generation of New York School artists.

  1. Lichtenstein, interview with the author, in Philip Larson, Eight Artists: Prints from Gemini G.E.L., exh. cat. (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1974), 16–18.

  2. The Walker Art Center is fortunate to shelter many editions that Kenneth Tyler shepherded at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, then later at Tyler Graphics in Mount Kisco, New York.

  3. Quoted in John Coplans, ed., Roy Lichtenstein (New York: Praeger Publications, 1972), 44–45.

  4. Alfred Hamilton Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936), 145.

  5. See Coplans, Roy Lichtenstein, 44–45.

  6. The exhibition Roy Lichtenstein as Sculptor: Recent Works 1977–1984 was curated by Jean Robertson for the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, and opened at the Walker in 1985.

Larson, Philip. “Roy Lichtenstein.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center


artist’s quote artist’s quote Lichtenstein, Roy, 1963

RL: It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one would hang it – everybody was hanging everything. It was almost acceptable to hang a dripping paint rag, everybody was accustomed to this. The one thing everyone hated was commercial art; apparently they didn’t hate that enough, either… .

GRS: Are you anti-experimental?

RL: I think so, and anti-contemplative, anti-nuance, anti-getting-away-from-the-tyranny-of-the-rectangle, anti-movement-and-light, anti-mystery, anti-paint-quality, anti-Zen, and anti all of those brilliant ideas of preceding movements which everyone understands so thoroughly. Roy Lichtenstein, 1963