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Roy Lichtenstein (1923 - 1997)

Related: American art - Pop art - USA

Tropes: comics

Key works: Whaam! (1963) - Bauhaus Staircase (1989)

At his weakest Lichtenstein seems the very opposite of a truly popular artist. He is claustrophobically obsessed with art itself and ideas about art. (Edward Lucie-Smith)

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Excerpts from Wikipedia article

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.

He began teaching at Rutgers University in 1960 where he was heavily influenced by Allan Kaprow, also a tutor at the University.

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." --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Lichtenstein [Mar 2006]

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