Roy Lichtenstein

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Roy Lichtenstein (1967) in front of his painting Whaam!
Lichtenstein's signature on a sculpture

Roy Fox Lichtenstein (born October 27, 1923 in Manhattan , New York City , † September 29, 1997 there ) was an American teacher and painter of Pop Art . Alongside Andy Warhol , he was probably the best-known representative of this art movement. His breakthrough came in 1961 with the image Look Mickey (dt. Look Mickey ), his style was the industrial style of the printed comics . In his later work, however, Lichtenstein again oriented himself to his expressionist and surreal roots. With the Kyoto Prize in 1995 he was awarded one of the highest awards for services to science and the arts.


Years of apprenticeship

Barcelona, The Head (1992)

Roy Lichtenstein was born in 1923 into a middle-class Jewish family in New York . His father was a real estate agent. Roy attended a private school whose curriculum did not include art classes. As a teenager he began to paint and draw. He was interested in jazz and used jazz musicians with their instruments as models for portraits in the style of Ben Shahn . He met his models at concerts in Harlem and in jazz clubs on 52nd Street.

In the summer of 1939 he attended the Art Students League courses with Reginald Marsh (1898–1954). Lichtenstein drew models and New York city scenes such as Coney Island , street parties and boxing matches. Marsh himself was one of those painters who had devoted himself to national art and painting. He painted motifs from everyday life, concentrating on tangible motifs, abstractions such as those contained in Cubism or European Futurism , which he rejected. Lichtenstein's motifs were based on this, although his declared role model was already at this time Pablo Picasso , whose blue and pink periods strongly influenced Lichtenstein's early works.

In 1940 Lichtenstein finished high school and enrolled in the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University due to a lack of opportunities in New York . He wanted to become an artist himself, but was persuaded by his parents to do a teaching diploma at the art academy. Professor Hoyt L. Sherman (1903–1981) had the greatest influence on him, and Lichtenstein painted models and still lifes in the style of Expressionism . From 1943 to 1945 he interrupted his studies and served in the military, where he was deployed in Europe. During this time, he made natural drawings with ink , pen and chalk . After the war , he took courses in French and history at the Cité Universitaire in Paris , but returned to America after a month and a half to visit his sick father.

Sherman used a method known as the "flash room" in his courses. In doing so, he darkened the room and briefly projected images onto up to three canvases, which became more and more complex over the course of the semester. Later, he hung real objects on the ceiling, which were also briefly illuminated. The students had to put what they saw on paper in the dark due to the mental afterimage. These courses left a formative impression on Lichtenstein. In his later works, Lichtenstein tried again and again to combine the two-dimensionality of the image with the presence of the multidimensional object. In June 1946 he graduated from Ohio State University . He then began the Master of Fine Arts course and took on a teaching position that lasted until 1951. During this phase he was inspired by the Cubists for his semi-abstract paintings.

Early and largely unsuccessful artist years

In 1950 he completed his master’s degree and lost his teaching position the following year as the large number of students supported by the state with the GI Bill collapsed. Roy Lichtenstein married Isabel Wilson in 1949. The couple had two sons, David Hoyt (* 1954) and Mitchell Wilson (* 1956). Lichtenstein moved to Cleveland in 1951, where his wife was employed, and worked as a graphic and technical draftsman and as a designer for tinplate cans. His first solo exhibitions in 1949/1950 took place in the Ten-Thirty Gallery , Cleveland and the Carlebach Gallery , New York. In 1965, Isabel Wilson's marriage was divorced.

Early works (selection, external)

Between 1952 and 1955 Lichtenstein concentrated on typically American subjects , occupied himself with expressionism , abstraction and painted wooden constructions. His artistic work represented an irritating alienation of typical American paintings (such as Western motifs by Frederic Remington and Charles Willson Peale ) in a cubist way. This resulted in a kind of distant historical painting that contained an admiration for the chosen motifs, but at the same time through the painting technique went to this at a distance. At that time, Lichtenstein also used similar motifs for sculptures made of wood and metal. By 1957 there were three more exhibitions in the John Heller Gallery , New York; Despite the presentation of his works, Lichtenstein was only able to sell a few. In order to earn a living, he resumed teaching in 1957. He was hired as an assistant professor of art at New State University , Oswego , where he taught for the next three years.

The first signs of Pop Art could be seen in humorous lithographs in 1956 , although at that time he was still predominantly painting expressionist pictures. In 1957, for example, the picture Ten Dollar Bill was created , which was a highly abstracted ten dollar bill . Lichtenstein's focus on Expressionism, which was very popular in the USA at the time, is often interpreted as an attempt to jump onto the mainstream and become commercially successful in this way. Two directions of Expressionism prevailed, between which Lichtenstein oscillated, on the one hand " Action Painting ", mainly represented by Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock , and on the other hand the introverted Expressionism, which was represented by Barnett Newman and Robert Motherwell , for example . Newman became known for large and pure areas of color that were intended to encourage the viewer to meditate on the image.

Roy Lichtenstein began to experiment with this style in 1957 and exhibited his works again in New York in 1959, albeit without attracting much attention. Probably out of a lack of conviction in this style, he eventually began to paint comic book characters such as Mickey Mouse , Donald Duck , Bugs Bunny and other Disney characters. He himself described this as a sheer desperate step, because in his opinion there were simply no more niches between Milton Resnick and Mike Goldberg . His first Disney pictures were never shown in public and to a large extent they were painted over by Lichtenstein himself.

Look Mickey, the breakthrough of a provocation

From 1960 to September 1963 Lichtenstein was employed at Rutgers University in New Jersey and also moved there. There he met Allan Kaprow , who introduced him to Robert Watts , Claes Oldenburg , Jim Dine , Robert Whitman (* 1935) and others. Kaprow became known for his establishment of happenings and installations that combined art with the use of everyday objects. He shared this attitude with his teacher, the musician John Cage , who was also considered the mentor of the two extreme artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns . Their extreme handling of art was the basis for Lichtenstein's provocative comic pictures. Lichtenstein first experimented with chewing gum pictures and then came up with the idea of ​​producing them in large format. Started as an experiment, this idea inspired the painter, and in 1961 he broke with the remaining traditions of previous painting by using the imitation of industrial printing technology and, above all, the speech bubble known from comics in his pictures.

1961 to 1965 (selection, external)

The first result of this new idea was in 1961 the picture Look Mickey (dt. Look Mickey ) on which Mickey Mouse were shown and Donald Duck on a jetty. Donald exclaims enthusiastically: "Look Mickey, I've hooked a big one !!", although his fish hook has only got caught in his jacket, Mickey stands behind him grinning with his hand up. With this picture Roy Lichtenstein achieved his breakthrough; his style also became the industrial style of printed comics. In the same year he painted six more pictures in the same style. Among these pictures is Mr. Bellamy . In the fall, Lichtenstein submitted his pictures to the New York gallery owner Leo Castelli , who immediately accepted them for his gallery. A few weeks later, Andy Warhol appeared in the same gallery with comic pictures, but Castelli turned them down. When Warhol saw the pictures of Lichtenstein, he turned away from the comics because he recognized this niche as occupied. Instead, he switched to the artistic representation of quantities and repetitions, with which he then became world famous.

In 1962 all of the paintings were sold to important collectors and Roy Lichtenstein was able to make a living from his paintings. He processed this experience in 1962 in his masterpiece , in which he had the protagonist say to her companion: “Why, Brad Darling, this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you'll have all of New York clamoring for your work! ". In that year Lichtenstein also took part in the first important Pop Art exhibitions:

Art and commerce

In 1963 Roy Lichtenstein moved back to New York and devoted himself entirely to painting the following year. In the period that followed, the artist created a large number of works, which can be classified into different subject areas and were often painted as series. In addition to pure painting, Lichtenstein also devoted himself to sculpture and the installation of artistic objects; also here always on the Lichtenstein style. As templates for his work, he continued to use pictures from comic series or from the yellow pages , such as Girl with Ball (1961, German girl with ball).

Brushstroke sculpture , 1996

His early work was characterized by a wide range of subjects. For many of these images, the templates are still tangible and a direct comparison is possible. Others, such as the representation of the golf ball , are obviously studies of three-dimensionality. Strong influences from Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian can be seen in Lichtenstein's pictures of this time, at the same time, in his simple choice of objects, parallels to contemporary artists such as Claes Oldenburg , who created sculptures made of vinyl or plaster in the form of cake pieces or sandwiches, become clear . Obviously influenced by the flood of advertisements for new types of devices and objects of the time, pictures such as Roto Broil (1961, German fryer), Washing Mashine (1961, German washing machine) or Sock (1961, German sock) were created. This “commercial art” shared the subtle representation with the comic images. The reproduction of everyday objects met with rejection from the art critics, but not from the buyers at Castelli. By attempting to copy the industrial and thus commercial production of comics, Lichtenstein further increased the close connection between art and commerce. With his work Art (1962) at the latest , he took the traditional institution of art ad absurdum by depicting an almost two square meter large word in black letters as art: ART, in German: art.

The war images of this time in particular were often interpreted as an anti-war stance on the part of the artist, but Lichtenstein clearly rejected:

“It is not a primary goal of my war images to portray military aggressiveness in an absurd light. Personally, I think our foreign policy has been barbaric in many ways, but that's not what my job is about and I don't want to exploit this widespread position. The subject of my work is more about our American definition of images and visual communication. "

Comic style abstractions

Already during his early creative phase, Lichtenstein began to combine abstraction and his newly developed comic style. In 1964/1965 he created paintings and ceramic sculptures of women's heads as well as landscapes and also converted his explosions into sculptures (e.g. Explosion No. 1 (1965) made of painted metal). Until 1969 he devoted himself to monumental architecture , his brushstroke series, explosions and modern paintings with a reference to the 1930s.

Abstractions (selection, external)

In his abstract works, too, which look like comic versions of the pictures by Pablo Picasso or other artists of the time, Lichtenstein played with an alternation of strong black lines, filled and dotted areas. Works such as Study for Preparedness (1968, German study for the image readiness) or the modular painting with four panels No. 2 (1969). The brushstroke series set monochrome brushstrokes with black borders and grooves on a dotted ground (e.g. White Brushstroke I (1965) or Yellow and Green Brushstrokes (1966)). This series of works is known as brushstrokes .

At the beginning of 1969 he worked on a film about seascapes in Los Angeles and experimented with the medium of film with Joel Freedman in New York. In 1970 he moved to Southampton . The following year he became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1979 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

In the 1970s he dealt with optical illusions and works of art history. During this phase, various still lifes were created such as Still-Life with Silver-Pitcher (1972, German Stillleben mit Silberkrug), Still-Life with Net, Shell, Rope and Pulley (1972, German Stillleben mit Netz, Mussel und Tau), Still Life with Goldfish (1974, German still life with gold fish) or Still-Life with Lemons (1975, German still life with lemons), in which he also abstracted the still lifes of the 19th century. Other works use the work of other artists as a model, such as the Forest Scene (1980, Waldszene) or Rouen Cathedral (Seen at Three Different Times of Day) Set No. 2 (1969, after Claude Monet ) and Red Horseman (1974, German Red Rider) after the picture of the same name by Carlo Carrà . The Artist's Studio series, in turn, dealt with his own works, which Lichtenstein presented in a new context (e.g. Artist's Studio, Look Mickey (1973), Artist's Studio - with model (1974) or Artist's Studio, Foot Medication (1974)). In 1977 he designed a BMW Art Car . In 1979 he was commissioned to create a public sculpture, a mermaid, for the Theater of Performing Arts in Miami Beach , Florida .

In the 1980s in particular, Roy Lichtenstein created works that completely left the comic atmosphere and recalled the artist's expressionist and surreal roots. With clear colors, but without flat elements or frames, he presented representational impressions such as landscapes. During this time, he created Red Barn through the Trees (1984), Sunrise (1984) or Landscape with Red Roof (1985). He also created works in this style that were inspired by East Asian art.

Roy Lichtenstein took part in the 4th documenta in Kassel in 1968 and was also represented as an artist at Documenta 6 in 1977. In 1995 he was awarded the Kyoto Prize . From the George Washington University , Washington DC Roy Lichtenstein received an honorary doctorate 1996th He died on September 29, 1997 in Manhattan of complications from pneumonia.


Roy Lichtenstein painted with strong, clear colors. His works are often reminiscent of comics or old newspaper advertisements. In this way, Roy Lichtenstein tried to connect art with consumer goods. He consciously used the template of industrial-commercial products, such as comic books and advertisements. He combined this with art and thereby criticized the detachment of art from everyday and consumer life.

For his purposes, Roy Lichtenstein further developed a special painting technique called Benday Dots in English, which was developed by the American artist and inventor Benjamin Day for industrial illustration. Instead of colored areas, he only used uniform color dots and thus gave his large-format works an artificial effect. This grid method, which other artists initially met with humor, he also caricatured himself, for example with his work Magnifying Glass (1963, German magnifying glass ).

An impressive example of Lichtenstein's use of industrial ideas is his color scheme. Like the commercial producer of printing works, he tried to use as few colors as possible. While the printer does this for economic reasons, with Lichtenstein it becomes an artistic means. Black hair, for example in the picture Drowning Girl (1963, German drowning girl ), Lichtenstein depicted blue and thus saved the lighting effects. Large areas were either completely filled or represented by the typical dotting, again a former economic constraint that Lichtenstein used in the sense of his art.

The people Lichtenstein depicted in his works lack any individuality and usually represent the archetype of the beautiful woman - mostly blonde - as in Eddie Diptych (1962, German Eddie Diptych ), The Kiss (1962, German Der Kiss ) or Vicky (1964).

Roy Lichtenstein's work was not limited to painting pictures. He devoted himself to screen printing, wood printing and the collage technique. The artist also repeatedly created ceramic sculptures.

Lichtenstein Foundation

The estate with around 800 works, documents, the correspondence archive and many other documents is held by the Lichtenstein Foundation, which the widow Dorothy Lichtenstein founded after Roy's death. The foundation also holds the rights to the artist's works. In 2018, the then 78-year-old President of the Foundation decided to gradually dissolve the Foundation over five to seven years. With around 400 works, she donated half of the holdings to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the complete archive of documents and correspondence to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC



  • M. Blackwood: Roy Lichtenstein. Portrait, documentary, 43 min., 1975.
  • Chris Hunt: Roy Lichtenstein. Documentation 51 min., Arthaus Musik GmbH 2007, ISBN 978-3-939873-17-4 .

Web links

Commons : Roy Lichtenstein  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b Shock therapy with Pop . In: Der Spiegel . No. 41 , 1997 ( online ).
  2. Masterpieces of Art Painting from AZ. Isis Verlag, Chur 1994, p. 441, OCLC 525342282 .
  3. ^ A b biography ( memento from June 6, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) on the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation website
  4. ^ Magda Salvesen, Diane Cousineau: Artists' Estates - Reputations in Trust, Jack Cowart on the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Rutgers, 2005, ISBN 0-8135-3604-9 , p. 336.
  5. Lawrence Alloway : Roy Lichtenstein. (= Modern Masters Series. 1). Abbeville Press, 1983, ISBN 0-89659-330-4 , p. 127.
  6. Uta Sienel: The screen printing and its print media - On the materiality of a young printing process, Roy Lichtenstein and his serigraphs on paper. Utz, 2008, ISBN 978-3-8316-0824-9 , p. 168.
  7. Members: Roy Lichtenstein. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed April 10, 2019 .
  8. ^ Wolf Stadler: Lexicon of Art. Volume 7, Eggolsheim 1987, p. 280. Also clearly in the exhibition “Roy Lichtenstein. Art as a motif. ”Recognizable until 3rd October 2010 in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne.
  9. Roy Lichtenstein is one of the pioneers of Pop Art. ( Memento from January 4, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) on:
  10. Whaam! Pow! Lichtenstein Foundation Starts to Wind Down With Big Gifts . In: New York Times , June 6, 2018

This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on April 12, 2010 .