Roy Lichtenstein

One of the most difficult things surrounding Lichtenstein’s work is the popular conception that Lichtenstein appeared out of nowhere producing the works that are popularized under the ‘Pop Art’ umbrella. Prior to 1961 Lichtenstein had been a progressive and prolific painter and sculptor whose works demonstrated an eclectic range of influences. Images such as ‘Reclining Woman’ 1942 and ‘Head’ 1946 (below)

Screen Shot 2012-11-05 at 7.30.39 PMReclining Woman

Screen Shot 2012-11-05 at 7.34.45 PMHead

are quite characteristic of Lichtenstein’s works prior to the late 40’s. Throughout the late 40’s and prior to the 60’s Lichtenstein openly experimented with works influenced by Abstract Expressionism and paintings that acknowledged the influence of individual artists (particularly Picasso). Images such as ‘Untitled’ and ‘The Musician’ (below) are examples of this.


‘Untitled’ 1959 Oil on canvas

Screen Shot 2012-11-05 at 7.40.20 PM

‘The Musician’

1948, oil and graphite on canvas

Lichtenstein on Lichtenstein

  •  “Color is crucial in painting, but it is very hard to talk about. There is almost nothing you can say that holds up as a generalization, because it depends on too many factors: size, modulation, the rest of the field, a certain consistency that color has with forms, and the statement you’re trying to make.””I’m not really sure what social message my art carries, if any. And I don’t really want it to carry one. I’m not interested in the subject matter to try to teach society anything, or to try to better our world in any way.”
  • “I’m interested in what would normally be considered the worst aspects of commercial art. I think it’s the tension between what seems to be so rigid and cliched and the fact that art really can’t be this way.”
  • “I don’t have big anxieties. I wish I did. I’d be much more interesting.”
  • ‘Art relates to perception, not nature,’
  • “I was interested in using highly charged material [in] a very removed, technical, almost engineering drawing style’,”
  • ‘Brushstrokes in painting convey a sense of grand gesture. But in my hands, the brushstroke becomes the depiction of a grand gesture.’
  • ‘The geometric logic of art deco [seemed] too easily to fit the instruments, the T-squares and compasses, of the designers and architects, I saw in it a too-rational quality that had an absurd twist.’
  • “Well, it (Pop Art, fh) is an involvement with what I think to be the most brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture, things we hate, but which are also powerful in their impingement on us. I think art since Paul Cezanne has become extremely romantic and unrealistic, feeding on art; it is utopian. It has had less and less to do with the world, it looks inward – neo Zen and all that. This is not so much a criticism as an obvious observation. Outside is the world; it’s there. Pop Art looks out into the world; it appears to accept its environment, which is not good or bad, but different – another state of mind”
  • “In Abstract Expressionism the paintings symbolize the idea of ground-directedness as opposed to object-directedness. You put something down, react to it, put something else down, and the painting itself becomes a symbol of this. The difference is that rather than symbolize this ground-directedness I do an object-directed appearing thing. There is humor here. The work is still ground-directed; the fact that it’s an eyebrow or an almost direct copy of something is unimportant. The ground-directedness is in the painter’s mind and not immediately in apparent in the painting. Pop Art makes the statement that ground-directedness is not a quality that the painting has because of what it looks like…”

Other Voices

The Artist

October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997

Roy Lichtenstein was born in New York City into an upper-middle-class Jewish family. His father, Milton, was a real estate broker, his mother, Beatrice Werner, a homemaker. He was raised on the Upper West Side and attended public school until the age of twelve. He then enrolled at New York’s Franklin School for Boys, remaining there for his secondary education. Lichtenstein first became interested in art and design as a hobby, and through school.He was an avid jazz fan, often attending concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He frequently drew portraits of the musicians playing their instruments.In his last year of high school, 1939, Lichtenstein enrolled in summer classes at the Art Students League of New York, where he worked under the tutelage of Reginald Marsh.

Lichtenstein then 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 and after World War II between 1943 and 1946.After being in training programs for languages, engineering, and pilot training, all of which were canceled, he served as an orderly, draftsman, and artist.

Lichtenstein returned home to visit his dying father and was discharged from the army with eligibility for the G.I. Bill.He returned to studies in Ohio under the supervision of one of his teachers, Hoyt L. Sherman, who 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 1949 Lichtenstein received an M.F.A. degree from the Ohio State University and in the same year married Isabel Wilson…

In 1951 Lichtenstein had his first solo exhibition at the Carlebach Gallery in New York.  He moved to Cleveland in the same year, where he remained for six years, although he frequently traveled back to New York. During this time he undertook jobs as varied as a draftsman to a window decorator in between periods of painting.  His work at this time fluctuated between Cubism and Expressionism


  • In 1954, his first son, David Hoyt Lichtenstein, now a songwriter, was born.
  • His second son, Mitchell Lichtenstein was born in 1956.
  • In 1957, he moved back to upstate New York and began teaching and experimenting with Abstract Expressionism.
  • Lichtenstein began teaching in upstate New York at the State University of New York at Oswego in 1958.
  • He and his wife were divorced in 1965.
  • He married his second wife, Dorothy Herzka, in 1968.
  • From 1970 until his death, Lichtenstein split his time between Manhattan and a house near the beach in Southampton, New York.

Conceptual Framework

Artworld (key events)


John Heller Gallery in New York (108 East 57th Street) presents a solo exhibition of Lichtenstein’s work, consisting of 16 paintings based on American frontier themes, and several self-portraits as a knight. Prof. Sherman contributes a brief preface to the show’s brochure. One painting in the show, “Death of the General”, is reproduced in ARTnews and Art Digest.

Study for Death of a General

Study for “Death of the General”


Through, Kaprow, a fellow teacher at Rutgers, R.L. meets Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras (a student of Kaprow’s the previous year), Segal (then completing his M.F.A. degree), and Robert Whitman; and through Robert Watts, another professor in the department, he meets George Brecht, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick and Allison Higgins, and George Maciunas, all artists who will be involved with the Fluxus group.

Autumn. Kaprow makes appointment for Lichtenstein to see Ivan Karp, director of the Leo Castelli Gallery. He brings The Engagement Ring, Girl with Ball, Look Mickey, The Refrigerator, and Step on can with leg to the gallery. Karp arranges for Castelli to see them (except for Look Mickey). Castelli finds ‘Girl with Ball’ interesting and, several weeks later, agrees to represent Lichtenstein. While in the gallery, Lichtenstein sees works by Rosenquist and Warhol for the first time. Warhol takes his paintings to Leo Castelli Gallery and shows them to Karp. Karp shows Warhol Lichtenstein’s painting ‘Girl with Ball’. With Karp, visits Warhol’s studio (at 1342 Lexington Avenue), where he sees Warhol’s comic-strip and consumer-goods paintings. Begins a series of black-and-white drawings (which he continues until 1968), using ink and Speedball pen, such as Couch. Lichtenstein’s first works consigned to Leo Castelli Gallery. He begins to receive a stipend of $400 a month from the gallery. Sidney Janis Gallery presents International Exhibition of the New Realists, featuring “factual paintings and sculpture” by Americanand European artists, including Dine, Klein, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, Rosenquist, Rotella, Segal, Tinguely, and Warhol.


Girl with ball

George Washington, Aloha, The Refrigerator Electric Cord, Handshake, and Femme d’Alger are included in The Popular Image Exhibition at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art (Washington, D.C.), organized by Alice Denney. Lichtenstein’s first solo exhibition in Europe, at Sonnabend’s gallery in Paris. He travels to Paris for the opening, his first trip back to the city since the war. Lichtenstein’s Pop works are shown for the first time in Britain in The Popular Image, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (17-18 Dover Street), organized by Alan Solomon.




‘George Washington’




‘Femme d’Alger’


The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Lichtenstein’s first solo museum exhibition, Works by Roy Lichtenstein, organized by Ed Henning.


The Tate Gallery (London) purchases ‘Whamm’. In April, Arts magazine publishes an article by Dalí entitled “How an Elvis Presley Becomes a Roy Lichtenstein.” The Pasadena Art Museum, in collaboration with the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), presents first traveling retrospective of Lichtenstein’s work, organized by John Coplans. First solo-exhibition catalogue devoted to his work is published. Lichtenstein sees Coplans’s exhibition Serial Imagery at the Pasadena Art Museum, and, inspired by the works by Claude Monet included in the show, begins making his Haystack and Rouen Cathedral lithographs.



First New York retrospective of Lichtenstein’s paintings and sculptures, at the Guggenheim Museum, organized by Waldman; the show travels to three other U.S. museums. The Guggenheim Museum purchases Preparedness the first work by Lichtenstein to enter the museum’s collection.


Publication of first monograph on Lichtenstein’s paintings and sculptures, by Waldman. Lichtenstein begins Still Life series (which he continues through 1975). Increasingly uses diagonal stripes in place of Benday dots. Begins to incorporate quotations of his own work in his Still Life paintings; also begins to incorporate references to works by Henri Matisse.

Still life with Glass and Peeled Lemon

“Still Life with Glass and Peeled Lemon”


Still Life with Silver Pitcher 1972

Still Life with Portrait from 'Six Still Lifes' 1974 by Roy Lichtenstein 1923-1997

“Still LIfe with Portrait”


Lichtenstein begins series of trompe-l’oeil and Cubist Still Lifes, which include his first use of faux-woodgrain pattern. Begins Artist’s Studio series (which he continues through 1974) and incorporates quotations of some of his early 1960s paintings and drawings into some of the compositions. Creates several paintings showing the influence of De Stijl and Russian Constructivism.


Lichtenstein begins to paint his first works influenced by Italian Futurism. Begins new series of Entablatures, using metallic colors and mixing sand with paint to highlight surface texture. Lichtenstein’s Modern Head a 30-foot-high sculpture in metal, wood, and polyurethane made at Lippincott, a foundry in Connecticut, is assembled on a site in the Santa Anita Fashion Park in Arcadia, California. (It is removed in October 1988).


Lichtenstein begins series of paintings based on works by Purist artists Charles-Édouard Jeanneret [Le Corbusier] and Amédée Ozenfant (which he
continues through 1976). Graffiti artists Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and others gain instant art-world recognition after their works are shown in an exhibition at Artists Space in New York.1975


Lichtenstein begins series of paintings based on works by Surrealist artists-including Dalí, Ernst, and Magritte-and Surrealist works by Picasso. Begins to make painted and patinated sculptures in bronze, with the assistance of Carlos Ramos and in collaboration with two foundries, Lippincott and Tallix, in Beacon, New York. Creates large outdoor sculpture, Lamp, for Gilman Paper Company in St.Mary’s, Georgia. Jenny Holzer begins to hang her Truisms, unsigned posters, throughout New York. Lichtenstein receives Skowhegan Medal for Painting. Lichtenstein Is awarded Doctorate of Fine Arts from California Institute of the Arts, Valencia. BMW commissions Lichtenstein to create an exterior design for their 3201 race car, driven later in the year at Le Mans.


Lichtenstein contributes cover design for catalogue to the Whitney Museum’s exhibition Art about Art, organized by Jean Lipman and Richard Marshall.
After its run at the Whitney Museum (July 19-Sept. 24), show travels to three other venues. Visits Los Angeles, where he sees Robert Gore Rifkind Collection of German Expressionist graphic art. Begins to feature North American Indian motifs in his works.


Begins German Expressionist-inspired works based on paintings and woodcuts by artists such as Erich Heckel, Franz Marc, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
Mermaid, R.L.’s first public sculpture commission, is dedicated and installed at the Miami Beach Theatre for the Performing Arts. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art exhibits Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party, begun in 1974, a work created through the efforts of more than 100 women. Lichtenstein is elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, New York.


  • May encounter works in galleries, publications, online or via other media (DVD)
  • May reference the artist as part of an historical tableau.
  • May encounter interpretive discourses in the works of Historians, Curators and Critics.
  • May interpret the artist works aesthetically, historically or culturally.
  • Encounters with artworks may be causal, casual or intentional.
  • May include Gallery Assistants, Curators, Conservation teams, Technical Assistants, Publicists, Collectors, Auctioneers, Historians, Critics and members of the general public in a range of contexts.

World Events

Whilst this listing is reasonably extensive, and may place some things in context, it’s good to remember that it’s difficult to determine how events in the world impact on the artist and their practice. However an awareness of events that shape social paradigms can help in drawing inferences and mapping associations. Lichtenstein was 17 when Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain and the events below 1940-1951 cover his late teens through to his first exhibition.

1940: Winston Churchill becomes Prime Minister of Britain. The Battle of Britain: Germany bombs Britain, and the RAF responds successfully.
Germany, Italy and Japan sign Three-Power Pact military agreement. 1941: Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US declares war on Japan. 1942: Japanese occupy Singapore. Battle of El Alamein, North Africa. 1943: Allies invade Italy; Italian truce with Allies. Italy declares war on Germany. 1944: D-Day: Allies’ invasion of German-occupied western Europe begins at Normandy, France. US inflicts heavy losses on Japanese at Battle of the Philippine Sea. 1945: Adolf Hitler commits suicide. Germany surrenders; end of war in Europe.US drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese sign surrender: World War II officially ends.United Nations established. Howard Florey jointly awarded Nobel Prize with Alexander Fleming and Ernst Chain, for discovery and development of penicillin. 1946: Conflict between Communist forces led by Mao Tse-Tung and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists— civil war in China until 1949. Construction of Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the first general-purpose electronic digital calculator, completed—considered the first electronic computer. 1947: Britain partitions India into two independent dominions: India and Pakistan. Dead Sea Scrolls found in Palestine. Invention of the transistor. 1948: Mahatma Gandhi assassinated. State of Israel proclaimed under United Nations sanction. First Arab-Israeli war. United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Malayan Emergency declared. Korea divided into North and South Republics. 1949: Mao Tse-Tung proclaims the People’s Republic of China. Germany divided into German Democratic (East) and Federal (West) Republics. South Africa passes legislation implementing apartheid. 1950: India becomes a republic. Senator Joseph McCarthy leads anti-Communist campaign in US. Communist North Korea invades South Korea. 1951: Australia, New Zealand and US sign ANZUS Security Treaty for defence of the Pacific.

The following are key events during the period of Lichtenstein’s most prolific period as an artist and cover his time as an emerging artist, mid career artist and the establishment of his career on the world stage.

1952: King George VI dies at Sandringham; succeeded by Elizabeth II. 1953: Death of Joseph Stalin, leader of USSR. Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing Norgay climb Mount Everest. 1954: Geneva Accords divide Vietnam into North Vietnam (Communist) and South Vietnam. Building of the world’s first large-scale nuclear power plant begins in Shippingport, Pennsylvania. 1955: Warsaw Pact: USSR and Eastern Bloc nations sign military alliance. Popularity of rock’n’roll; Elvis Presley dominates US Top Ten record charts. 1956: Suez Canal crisis. Anti-communist uprising in Hungary crushed by Soviet troops. Che Guevara plays leading role with Fidel Castro in Cuban Revolution. 1957: European Economic Community established. Civil Rights Act in US; race riots in southern states. USSR launches Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth. 1958: US launches satellite Explorer I. National Aeronautics and Space Administration is created, and ‘space race’ accelerates. Invention of the integrated circuit—‘chip’ technology. 1959: Revolutionary leader Fidel Castro assumes power in Cuba. Uprising in Tibet crushed by Chinese Government; Dalai Lama flees from Tibet to India. 1960: Mass protests in South Africa against apartheid; State of Emergency declared by Government. 1961 Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes first man to orbit Earth in a spacecraft. Attempted invasion of Cuba at Bay of Pigs by anti-Castro exiles backed by US defeated. East Germany begins building the Berlin Wall. 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis—threat of US–Soviet nuclear war. 1963: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom’—Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Federation of Malaysia created. US President John F Kennedy assassinated in Dallas, Texas. 1964: Indonesian troops become involved in ‘Confrontation’ in Malaysia. African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa. Gulf of Tonkin incident results in US bombing North Vietnamese targets. 1965: Malcolm X, militant black civil rights leader, assassinated in New York. First US combat troops arrive in Vietnam. War breaks out between India and Pakistan.

1966: Soviet spacecraft Luna 9 makes first soft landing on the moon. Mao Tse-Tung’s ‘Cultural Revolution’ begins in China. 1967: Six Day War erupts between Israelis and Arabs. Dr Christian Barnard performs the world’s first human heart transplant. 1968: Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis; riots break out in many US cities following his death. Senator Robert Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles. Soviet troops occupy Czechoslovakia. Outbreak of ‘The Troubles’ conflict in Northern Ireland.
1969: US astronaut Neil Armstrong becomes the first man to walk on the moon. 400,000 people attend Woodstock festival in New York state. Yasser Arafat becomes leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. ARPAnet, precursor to the Internet, established by the US Department of Defence for data sharing across computers.
1970: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons comes into force. Ohio National Guard fires on Kent State University students protesting against US invasion of Cambodia killing four. 1971: Egypt, Syria and Libya form Federation of Arab Republics. China admitted to the United Nations. Women in Switzerland gain the vote. The microprocessor is invented in US. Development of first email programs.Oz censorship trial in London, the longest obscenity trial in British legal history, finds editors to be guilty of publishing an indecent magazine. 1972: Bloody Sunday’ in Northern Ireland; direct rule enforced by British. Black September’ Palestinian terrorists kidnap and kill Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games. 1973: Britain joins the European Economic Community. US signs peace agreement with North Vietnam; withdrawal of US combat troops. World oil crisis as Arab countries limit supplies. 1974: US President Nixon resigns over ‘Watergate’ scandal. Muhammad Ali becomes world heavyweight boxing champion when he knocks out George Foreman in bout in Zaire, Africa. 1975: Communist Khmer Rouge takes power in Cambodia. Capture of Saigon by Communist North Vietnamese forces. Indonesia invades East Timor. Civil war begins in Lebanon. 1976: Large-scale rioting against apartheid in Soweto and other townships in South Africa. US spacecraft Viking I lands on Mars. North and South Vietnam unified as Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Punk music and fashion influential.

sourced at

Of course keep in mind that what’s missing from the above are the events that had significant impact on popular culture, and these are those that relate to media, music, literature and film.



From the point of view of the contemporary audience and other artists, Lichtenstein’s work made a clean break with the wave of Expressionist / Abstract Expressionist  art that had swept Europe and America from the ’40’s to the ’70’s and was even arguably different in it’s emotional and aesthetic toning from the mainstream oeuvre of Pop Art which his mid career work became associated with.


  • Inspired by comic strips, advertising and mass culture imagery.
  • Explorations of art historical movements
  • Reflects upon the condition of painting in an age of mechanical reproduction and mass media.
  • A highly intellectual approach towards the social role of the artist
  • Explored melodramatic stories and clichéd gender roles as disseminated through American mass media.


  • Provoked both delight and outrage.
  • In 1964 Life magazine facetiously queried ‘Is he the worst artist in the US?
  • Artwork achieved a level of stylistic familiarity that a general public would instantly recognise.


  • A considered approach to composition.
  • Adhered strongly to formalist thinking in terms of colour, shape and line.
  • Worked with a limited palette (usually two to three primary colours and black + white).
  • Seldom used contrasting colours (preferred harmonious colours).
  • Physically large works with small pictorial scale.
  • Predominantly flat areas of colour broken with stripes or dots.


  • Content of works from the 60’s onwards appear to be derived from mainstream American media, however Lichtenstein was not an acknowledged fan of comics. The incorporation of Benday dots, which seem to reference dot matrix printing are increasingly replaced by stripes in his later work and appear to be compositional devices rather than media or popular cultural references.
  • Lichtenstein draws heavily on European artists such as Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Erich Heckel, Franz Marc, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Dalí, Ernst, Magritte and movements such as Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism, Surrealism, Expressionism and Impressionism.
  • Early works reference American Colonialism and historical figures.
  • Audiences now reference his mid career works as part of an historical narrative that informs our understanding of American Popular culture and the American arm of the Pop Art Movement.

Post Modern

Lichtenstein had a steady practice of referencing the works of other artists throughout his life. It’s arguable that none of this has any contextualisation with the framework of Post Modernism. e.g,. 1967 inspired by the works by Claude Monet included in the show, begins making his Haystack and Rouen Cathedral lithographs. ‘72 begins to incorporate references to works by Henri Matisse. ’73 Creates several paintings showing the influence of De Stijl and Russian Constructivism also references his own earlier works. ’74 begins to paint his first works influenced by Italian Futurism. ’75 begins series of paintings based on works by Purist artists Charles-Édouard Jeanneret [Le Corbusier] and Amédée Ozenfant (which he continues through 1976). ’77 begins series of paintings based on works by Surrealist artists-including Dalí, Ernst, and Magritte-and Surrealist works by Picasso.

It appears as though this referencing is an organic part of his investigative process rather than a deliberate strategy as is part of the Post Modern paradigm. His earlier works are riddled with visual references to other artists, (particularly Picasso) and movements, but these appear as natural developments in his iconography born more from curiosity and a need to understand.


  • “Unlike many artists, Lichtenstein did not use live models for his depictions of the female body; instead he returned to his archive of comic clippings to select female characters as subjects – and then literally undressed them, by imagining their bare bodies under their clothes before painting them as nude.”
  • “In 1996 he embarked on a little-known series of small paintings that he called ‘obliterating brushstrokes’, in which handpainted, loosely applied brushstrokes are juxtaposed with geometric forms. In contrast to the monumental nude paintings made at the same time, they can be seen as a quiet, almost simple meditation on the very essence of painting”
  • Combined ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.
  •  Lichtenstein avoided photographic techniques to recreate the mechanically reproduced image of the brush-strokes and decided instead to paint them by hand.
  • Incorporated imagery from popular culture, such as comic books and advertisements clipped from newspapers, mail order catalogues and telephone books.
  • Often filled the entire canvas with the image to achieve an exact fit between the work and its subject
  • Initially made his own stencils by drilling holes through strips of aluminium to apply dots on the painting.
  • In 1962 he began to use larger, prefabricated Benday screens that enabled him to create more even and uniform patterns.
  • Experimented with materials and optical effects.
  • In 1964 Lichtenstein found another kind of optical excitement in Rowlux – sheets of moulded biconvex plastic that create the illusion of an unstable, shifting surface when viewed from different angles.
  • Also experimented with film.

l_castelli handshake

Acknowledged sources



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