Lichtenstein, Roy (1923-1997)

Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in New York City, USA in 1923 to Jewish German immigrants. As a child he showed an early interest in art, science and music, and in 1936 he enrolled at Franklin School for Boys, New York. The school had no art teaching provision and the following year he attended watercolour classes at New York School of Fine and Applied Art where he began to paint still lifes. Meanwhile his musical interests developed through clarinet lessons and by visiting jazz clubs. In 1940 he attended painting classes at the Art Students League in New York, and enrolled as an undergraduate student at Ohio State University (OSU) in the College of Education.

Lichtenstein was inducted into military service in 1943 and while in service, he travelled to London and Paris where he saw works by artists such as Paul Cézanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. After the war he returned to the USA, and completed his degree. He joined the OSU School of Fine and Applied Arts as an instructor. In 1951 he had his first solo exhibition in New York at Carlebach Gallery and later that year moved to Cleveland, Ohio.

In 1957 Lichtenstein and his young family returned to New York where he became assistant professor at State University of New York, Oswego, teaching industrial design. During this period he began to make drawings of cartoon images such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, at first combining them in paintings with Abstract Expressionist brushwork. In 1960 he accepted an assistant professorship of art position at Douglass College, Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, where he got to know Allan Kaprow. Lichtenstein attended several ‘happenings’ organised by Kaprow, who inspired him to concentrate on his comic book images.

Lichtenstein made his first Pop Art painting, Look Mickey (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., USA), in 1961. That same year the influential art dealer Leo Castelli began to represent Lichtenstein and included one of his paintings in a group exhibition. He used a perforated metal screen for the first time in 1962 to make the Benday dots that he had previously painted by hand. The following year Lichtenstein was included in the important exhibition, Six Painters and the Object, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, curated by Lawrence Alloway alongside artists such as Andy Warhol, Jim Dine and Jasper Johns.

In 1966 Lichtenstein was one of five artists selected to represent the USA at the Venice Biennale and had his first solo exhibition at Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1967 he had his first European retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. The exhibition would later travel to three other museums including the Tate Gallery, which famously acquired the painting Whaam! 1963 in 1968. Lichtenstein began working on his first series of prints, Haystacks (see, for example, Haystacks #1 1969, Tate, London), and Rouen Cathedral, (both based on the work of Claude Monet) working with Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles. He had a retrospective exhibition in New York at the Guggenheim Museum in 1969, which included paintings and sculptures.

During the 1970s he continued to make prints and paintings in homage to major movements and figures in modern art. His print series from the early 1970s includes Entablatures (see, for example, Entablature V 1976, Tate, London), a series referencing neo-classical buildings. His painting series included Still Lifes, many of which made references to Cubist painters and specifically Pablo Picasso. He also made a film and created his first large-scale outdoor sculpture, Modern Head 1974, in Arcadia, California. In 1977 he began a series of paintings based on works by Surrealist artists, including Max Ernst and Salvador Dalí, and Surrealist works by Picasso.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York staged a drawing retrospective in 1987, the first drawings exhibition by a living artist to be held at the museum. The exhibition toured the USA and Europe. In 1988 he began to make the Reflections series of paintings in his studio in Southampton, New York, and later went on to work on a series of prints at the Tyler Graphics Inc. In the early 1990s Lichtenstein began his Interiors series and in 1996 he presented his Landscapes in Chinese style at the Castelli Gallery. He died unexpectedly in New York in 1997.

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