Author: Imogen Aldridge

Artist Feature: Roy Lichtenstein (1923 - 1997)

A name synonymous with Pop Art, Roy Lichtenstein is amongst the biggest American artists of the 1960s, best known for his distinctive, comic strip style pieces. Famously combining traditional art techniques with ‘low brow’ subject matter such as comics and cartoons, Lichtenstein’s work directly challenged the limitations and scepticism of the abstract expressionist movement of the time. 


CREATING POP ART THROUGH PARODY

In a similar vein to peers such as Richard Hamilton and Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein’s subject matter and art style incorporated pop culture, commercialism, mass-art production, and popular illustration. However, it was Lichtenstein’s use of traditional art techniques such as bold lines, thick paint and bright colours that drew both positive and negative attention from art critics, largely surrounding the juxtaposition of subject matter and technique.

Following his earliest pieces, Lichtenstein leaned into this style further, going on to incorporate his exaggerated Ben-Day Dots which directly drew from commercialised, mass-printing techniques -  another facet of the pop art movement that Lichtenstein helped define. Later becoming one of the hallmarks of his work, Lichtenstein’s bright and bold lines and Ben-Day Dots allowed his work to  significantly stand out amongst the rest.

On top of his influence and success in Pop Art, Lichtenstein also explored and saw success with other art forms such as Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism.  His explorative body of work had a major influence on up and coming artists at the time, going on to heavily inform the Postmodernism art movement. 

After majorly shaking things up in the art community, Lichtenstein’s work was considered ‘disruptive’, drawing both heavy criticism and praise from the wider art world. But despite the critics, Lichtenstein persisted in showing and creating art, and as a result, his incredible influence can still be seen to this day. Even without knowledge of Lichtenstein and his influence, it's likely that in describing pop art, many people would detail the characteristics of his work. 

Once called “one of the worst artists in America” by LIFE magazine, Lichtenstein’s persistence and refusal to conform or compromise has led to a breath-taking body of highly influential, timeless work. Here we’ll explore some of his most notable pieces, commenting on their style, significance, and legacy in the world of Lichtenstein pop art. 


MOST FAMOUS ARTWORKS: ROY LICHTENSTEIN POP ART


Look, Mickey - 1961

Originally created for his children, Lichtenstein’s Look, Mickey is his earliest piece in which he directly borrows from popular culture. While the scene is based on that from a book, Lichtenstein incorporates what would go on to be many of his signature techniques including: a rotated canvas, bold, black lines, primary colours, and Ben-Day dots, all inspired by print media.

Though only just coming onto the pop art scene with ‘Mickey’ in 1961, this early work drew plenty of criticism from art critics who labelled it as plagiarism of commercial imagery. However, many fans of Lichtenstein saw beyond the well-known characters and subject matter, paying more attention to the subtleties, such as the humorous tone, and the application of his own artistic techniques that referenced wider pop culture such as mass media. 

Drowning Girl - 1963

Similar to his earliest works where Lichtenstein borrows imagery and subject matter from cartoons and comic books, Drowning Girl is based on the cover of a DC comic called Run for Love. Again drawing criticism from critics, Lichtenstein’s piece incorporated several changes including the removal of the girl’s boyfriend from the scene, a closer focus on the woman’s face to accentuate the anguished sentiment, as well as slight changes to the speech copy. In addition to upping the melodrama of the original piece, Drowning Girl also features the many hallmarks of Lichtenstein’s signature style - the piece incorporates both traditional oil painting techniques with his pop-art Ben-Day Dots, a nod to mass produced printing often seen in comic books. 

In addition to drawing on popular culture, the artist’s insistence on crossing the boundary between traditional and modern / commercially inspired techniques is what makes the piece an iconic piece of Roy Lichtenstein pop art. 

Whaam - 1963

Again borrowing from the comic strip format, Whaam is one of Lichtenstein’s most famous works. Once again it incorporates pop-culture subject matter, as well as all the traditional facets of a mass-produced comic book including bold, black lines, Ben-Day dots, bold primary colours, speech bubbles, and the use of words and lettering to convey loud sounds. As with Drowning Girl, Whaam is directly borrowed from a DC comic, this time from All-American Men of War. 

In creating Whaam, Lichtenstein used a similar process as he did with Drowning Girl. Consistently throughout, he made subtle – and in some places almost unnoticeable – changes to the piece to create his own version, alongside other more blatant changes such as the changing of major colours. Commenting on this use of comics as a medium, Lichtenstein said, “My work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial”.

GET YOUR OWN ROY LICHTENSTEIN POP ART

Despite what his critics might have said throughout his career, we love Roy Lichtenstein at Art Republic. As one of Pop Art’s most famous sons his art is iconic and instantly recognisable to this day. Discover more artwork by Roy Lichtenstein or our full collection of pop art wall prints.

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