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Roy Lichtenstein
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
New York, NY
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York NY
One of America’s leading Pop artists, Roy Lichtenstein based his works on images and themes appropriated from the comics, commercial advertising and works by other artists as he sought to reflect the world around him. In a 1963 interview in ARTnews, he said he wanted to create art that was so “despicable” that no one would hang it. Instead he created some of the 20th-century’s most sought-after paintings, prints and sculptures. During his prolific career, he created about 5,000 works of art. Roy Fox Lichtenstein was born in New York City in 1927, the son of a successful real estate broker and a musically-talented housewife. He developed an interest in drawing as a child and while attending the Franklin School for Boys took watercolor classes on Saturdays at the Parsons School of Design. The summer after his high school graduation in 1940 he took painting classes with Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) at the Art Students League. Lichtenstein’s undergraduate studies at Ohio State University were interrupted by three years of military service. He received a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1947, followed by a master of fine arts degree in 1949. His graduate work included printmaking. Lichtenstein’s woodcut To Battle (1950, C/F 9) won first prize for graphics at the Ohio State Fair and was shown in a 1951 exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum, where it won a museum purchase award. His works at this time were semi-abstract, with geometric figures. He continued to teach at Ohio State after receiving his M.F.A., but was denied tenure in 1950 and was not offered a contract for the 1951-52 academic year. Lichtenstein had married Isabel Wilson (b. 1921) in 1949, and in 1951 they moved to Cleveland, where she established a successful career in interior design but he found work only in a series of part-time jobs. He continued to paint and make prints, including Ten Dollar Bill (1950, C/F 30), which presages his later Pop art. Lichtenstein moved his family to upstate New York in 1957, where he taught at the State University of New York at Oswego, and then to Highland Park, N.J., where he taught at Douglass College of Rutgers University. Lichtenstein worked in the Abstract Expressionist style in the late 1950s, but also began to incorporate cartoon figures into his work. His painting Look Mickey (1961, Washington: National Gallery of Art) was based on an image from a Disney children’s book, and incorporated the Benday dots that would become part of Lichtenstein’s signature style. His Rutgers colleague Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) introduced Lichtenstein to the New York dealer Leo Castelli (1907-1999), who included Look Mickey and other Lichtenstein’s Pop art works in a 1961 group exhibition. Lichtenstein consigned additional works to Castelli, and the first sale of one of his Pop art works was made that November. He separated from his wife that year; they were divorced in 1967. Castelli mounted the first solo exhibition of Lichtenstein’s Pop art in 1962. Lichtenstein began pursuing themes, including images from romance and war comics, large women’s faces and adaptations of works by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). He took a leave of absence from Rutgers in 1963 and resigned in 1964 to pursue his art full-time, living in New York City. Lichtenstein created prints for several notable publications in the 1960s. Among these are the two color lithographs he made for Walasse Ting’s (1929-2010) 1964 book of poetry and lithographs, 1¢ Life, and his screen print Sandwich and Soda (1964, C/F 35) for the 1964 portfolio X+X (Ten Works by Ten Painters), published by Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum . Lichtenstein exhibited in a variety of exhibitions in American and Europe and became well-known to the general public. In 1964 Life magazine published an article on him titled “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?” accompanied by a reproduction of Look Mickey. That year London’s Tate Gallery purchased his painting Wham! He married Dorothy Herzka in 1968. Lichtenstein went on to create paintings and prints on a number of themes, including landscapes, interiors, mirrors, abstract “brushstrokes,” Art Deco abstractions, haystacks and the Rouen Cathedral after Claude Monet (1840-1926) and nudes. He produced a variety of sculptures, large and small. He designed fabrics, wallpaper and paper plates. He created his first large mural for a building at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and painted others for the University of Düsseldorf, the Equitable Life Insurance building in Manhattan, the Creative Artists Agency in Beverly Hills and the 42nd Street subway station in Manhattan’s Times Square . Awards Lichtenstein received include several honorary doctoral degrees (two from Ohio State) and the National Medal of Arts (1995). He died in New York City in 1997 from pneumonia. His work continues to be exhibited widely in museums and galleries in America, Asia and Europe. (TNB 3/2014) Selected bibliography: Corlett, Mary Lee and Ruth E. Fine. The Prints of Roy Lichtenstein, A Catalogue Raisonné 1948-1997. 2nd ed. New York: Hudson Hills Press; Washington: National Gallery of Art, 2002. Rondeau, James and SheenaWagstaff. Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalog. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2012.