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Roy Lichtenstein (October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was a prominent American pop artist, whose work borrowed heavily from popular advertising and comic book styles, which he himself described as being "as artificial as possible."
Born into a middle class family in 1923 in New York City, he attended public school until the age of 12, before being enrolled into a private academy for his secondary education. The academy did not have an art department, and he became interested in art and design as hobby outside of his schooling. He was an avid fan of Jazz and often attended concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He would often draw portraits of the musicians at their instruments. During 1939, in his final year at the academy, he enrolled in summer art classes at the Arts Students League in New York under the tutelage of Reginald Marsh.
On graduating in 1940, Lichtenstein left New York to study at the Ohio State University which offered studio courses and a degree in fine arts. His studies were interrupted by a three year stint in the army during World War II. He returned to his studies in Ohio after the war and one of his teachers at the time, Hoyt L. Sherman, is widely regarded to have had a significant impact on his future work (Lichtenstein would later name a new studio he funded at OSU as the Hoyt L. Sherman Studio Art Center). Lichtenstein entered the graduate program at Ohio State and was hired as an art instructor, a post he held on and off for the next ten years. In 1951 he had his first one-man exhibition at a gallery in New York, the exhibition was a minor success. He moved to Cleveland in 1951, where he remained for six years, doing jobs as various as draftsmen to window decorator in between periods of painting. His work at this time was based on cubist interpretations of other artist’s paintings such as Frederic Remington. In 1957 he moved back to upstate New York and began teaching again. It is at this time that he adopted the Abstract Expressionism style, a late convert to this style of painting; he showed his work in 1959 to an unenthusiastic audience.
He began teaching at Rutgers University in 1960 where he was heavily influenced by Allan Kaprow, also a tutor at the University. His first work to feature the large scale use of hard edged figures and Benday Dots was Look Mickey (1961, National Gallery, Washington DC). In the same year he produced six other works with recognizable characters from gum wrappers or cartoons. In 1961 Leo Castelli started displaying Lichtenstein's work at his gallery in New York, and he had his first one man show at the gallery in 1962; the entire collection was bought by influential collectors of the time before the show even opened. Finally making enough money to live from his painting, he stopped teaching in the same year.
Using oil and Magna paint his best known works, such as Drowning Girl (1963, Museum of Modern Art, New York), feature thick outlines, bold colors and Benday Dots to represent certain colors, as if created by photographic reproduction. Rather than attempt to reproduce his subjects, his work tackles the way mass media portrays them.
His most famous image is arguably Whaam! (1963, Tate Gallery, London), one of the earliest known examples of pop art, featuring a fighter aircraft firing a rocket into an enemy plane with a dazzling red and yellow explosion. The cartoon style is heightened by the use of the onomatopoetic lettering WHAAM! and the boxed caption "I pressed the fire control... and ahead of me rockets blazed through the sky..." This diptych is large in scale, measuring 1.7 x 4.0 m (5'7" x 13'4").
Most of his best-known artworks are relatively close, but not exact, copies of comic book panels, a subject he largely abandoned in 1965. (He would occasionally incorporate comics into his work in different ways in later decades.) These panels were originally drawn by lesser known comic book artists such as Russ Heath, Tony Abruzzo, Irv Novick, and Jerry Grandinetti, who rarely received any credit. Artist Dave Gibbons, said of Lichtenstein's works: "Roy Lichtenstein's copies of the work of Irv Novick and Russ Heath are flat, uncomprehending tracings of quite sophisticated images." In response to complaints like that of Gibbons, Lichtenstein's obituary in The Economist noted these artists "did not think much of his paintings. In enlarging them, some claimed, they became static. Some threatened to sue him...But this is to miss the point of Roy Lichtenstein's achievement. His was the idea. The art of today, he told an interviewer, is all around us."
During the seventies and eighties, his work began to loosen and expand on what he had done before. He produced a series of “Artists Studios” which incorporated elements of his previous work. A notable example being Artist's Studio, Look Mickey (1973, Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis) which incorporates five other previous works, fitted into the scene.
In the late seventies this style was replaced with more surreal works such as Pow Wow (1979, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst,Aachen).
In addition to paintings, he also made sculptures in metal and plastic including some notable public sculptures such as Lamp in St. Mary’s, Georgia in 1978.
His painting Torpedo...Los! sold at Christie's for $5.5 million in 1989, a record sum at the time, one of only three artists to have attracted such huge sums for art produced within the artists lifetime.
In 1995 Lichtenstein was awarded the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation in Kyoto, Japan.
In 1996 The National Gallery in Washington DC became the largest single repository of the Artists work when he donated 154 prints and 2 books. In total there are some 4,500 works thought to be in circulation. He died of pneumonia in 1997 at New York University Medical Center. Twice married, he was survived by his wife, Dorothy, who he wed in 1968 and by his sons, David and Mitchell, from his first marriage.