Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein

American Painter, Sculptor, and Lithographer

Born: October 27, 1923 - New York, NY
Died: September 29, 1997 - New York, NY
"I'm never drawing the object itself; I'm only drawing a depiction of the object - a kind of crystallized symbol of it."
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Roy Lichtenstein Signature
"I'm interested in portraying a sort of antisensibility that pervades society .."
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"My use of evenly repeated dots and diagonal lines and uninflected color areas suggest that my work is right where it is, right on the canvas, definitely not a window into the world."
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"Visible brushstrokes in a painting convey a sense of grand gesture. But, in my hands, the brushstroke becomes a depiction of grand gesture. So the contradiction between what I'm portraying and how I am portraying it is sharp. The brushstroke became very important for my work."
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"There are certain things that are usable, forceful, and vital about commercial art."
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"All abstract artists try to tell you that what they do comes from nature, and I'm always trying to tell you that what I do is completely abstract."
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"When I have used cartoon images, I've used them ironically."
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Summary of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein was one of the first American Pop artists to achieve widespread renown, and he became a lightning rod for criticism of the movement. His early work ranged widely in style and subject matter, and displayed considerable understanding of modernist painting: Lichtenstein would often maintain that he was as interested in the abstract qualities of his images as he was in their subject matter. However, the mature Pop style he arrived at in 1961, which was inspired by comic strips, was greeted by accusations of banality, lack of originality, and, later, even copying. His high-impact, iconic images have since become synonymous with Pop art, and his method of creating images, which blended aspects of mechanical reproduction and drawing by hand, has become central to critics' understanding of the significance of the movement.


  • Art had carried references to popular culture throughout the 20th century, but in Lichtenstein's works the styles, subject matter, and techniques of reproduction common in popular culture appeared to dominate the art entirely. This marked a major shift away from Abstract Expressionism, whose often tragic themes were thought to well up from the souls of the artists; Lichtenstein's inspirations came from the culture at large and suggested little of the artist's individual feelings.
  • Although, in the early 1960s, Lichtenstein was often casually accused of merely copying his pictures from cartoons, his method involved some considerable alteration of the source images. The extent of those changes, and the artist's rationale for introducing them, has long been central to discussions of his work, as it would seem to indicate whether he was interested above all in producing pleasing, artistic compositions, or in shocking his viewers with the garish impact of popular culture.
  • Lichtenstein's emphasis on methods of mechanical reproduction - particularly through his signature use of Ben-Day dots - highlighted one of the central lessons of Pop art, that all forms of communication, all messages, are filtered through codes or languages. Arguably, he learned his appreciation of the value of codes from his early work, which drew on an eclectic range of modern painting. This appreciation may also have later encouraged him to make work inspired by masterpieces of modern art; in these works he argued that high art and popular art were no different: both rely on code.

Biography of Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein Life and Legacy

Lichteinstein was led to to put a microscope to his surroundings, to pursue a lifelong inquiry that he summarized thus: "I'm interested in portraying a sort of antisensibility that pervades society."

Important Art by Roy Lichtenstein

Progression of Art
Popeye (1961)


Popeye was one of the very first Pop paintings that Lichtenstein created in the summer of 1961. At a later stage he would begin to focus on the generic human figures that appeared in cartoons of the period, but, early on, he chose immediately recognizable characters such as Mickey Mouse and Popeye (here, Popeye appears with his rival Bluto). The work is also distinct in being one of the last in which Lichtenstein actually signed his name on the surface of the picture; critic Michael Lobel has pointed out that he seems to have done so with increasing uncertainty in this piece, combining it with a copyright logo that is echoed in the form of the open tin can above it. Some have suggested that Popeye's punch was intended as a sly response to one of the reigning ideas in contemporary art criticism that a picture's design should make an immediate visual impact. Whereas most believed this should be achieved with abstract art, Lichtenstein here demonstrated that one could achieve it just as well by borrowing from low culture.

Oil on canvas, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

Drowning Girl (1963)

Drowning Girl

In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein gained renown as a leading Pop artist for paintings sourced from comic books, specifically DC Comics. Although artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had previously integrated popular imagery into their works, no one hitherto had focused on cartoon imagery as exclusively as Lichtenstein. His work, along with that of Andy Warhol, heralded the beginning of the Pop art movement, and, essentially, the end of Abstract Expressionism as the dominant style. Lichtenstein did not simply copy comic pages directly, he employed a complex technique that involved cropping images to create entirely new, dramatic compositions, as in Drowning Girl, whose source image included the woman's boyfriend standing on a boat above her. Lichtenstein also condensed the text of the comic book panels, locating language as another, crucial visual element; re-appropriating this emblematic aspect of commercial art for his paintings further challenged existing views about definitions of "high" art.

Oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Yellow Landscape (1965)

Yellow Landscape

Lichtenstein expanded his use of bold colors and Ben-Day dots beyond the figurative imagery of comic book pages, experimenting with a wide variety of materials; his landscape pictures are a particularly strong example of this interest. Lichtenstein made a number of collages and multi-media works that included motors, metal, and often a plastic paper called Rowlux that had a shimmery surface and suggested movement. By re-appropriating the traditional artistic motif of landscape and rendering it in his Pop idiom, Lichtenstein demonstrated his extensive knowledge of the history of art and suggested the proximity of high and low art forms. His interest in modern art also led Lichtenstein to create many works that directly referenced artists such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Matisse.

Rowlux and oil on paper, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - Kunstmuseum, St. Gallen, Switzerland

Brushstrokes (1967)


Lichtenstein was a prolific printmaker throughout his career, and his prints played a substantial role in establishing printmaking as a significant art form in the 1960s. Brushstrokes, one such print, reflects his interest in the importance of the brushstroke in Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionist artists had made the brushstroke a vehicle to directly communicate feelings; Lichtenstein's brushstroke made a mockery of this aspiration, also suggesting that though Abstract Expressionists disdained commercialization, they were not immune to it - after all, many of their pictures were also created in series, using the same motifs again and again. Lichtenstein has said, "The real brushstrokes are just as pre-determined as the cartoon brushstrokes."

Color screenprint on white wove paper, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - The Art Institute of Chicago

Mirror I (1977)

Mirror I

Lichtenstein was particularly fascinated by the abstract way in which cartoonists drew mirrors, using diagonal lines to denote a reflective surface. He once remarked, "Now, you see those lines and you know it means 'mirror,' even though there are obviously no such lines in reality. It's a convention that we unconsciously accept." The mirror was a recurring leitmotif for Lichtenstein during the 1970s, but the artist had experimented with the graphic representation of reflection in earlier works, driven in part by an interest in the relationship between women and mirrors - both in historical artworks and in contemporary culture. Although the series might have been inspired by the appearance of mirrors in cartoons, Lichtenstein clearly also wanted to engage with themes of reproduction and reflection, which have interested artists at least as far back as the Renaissance.

Painted bronze, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, CA

House II (1966)

House II

Public and outdoor artworks, both painting and sculpture, constitute a significant portion of Lichtenstein's work, starting with a mural painted for the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, New York. The large-scale sculpture House I plays with perspective and illusion: depending on where the viewer stands, he or she will see the building's corner appear to move forward or backward within space. Despite Lichtenstein's typical use of flat colors and the fact that this sculpture is really a flat piece of metal, the structure's design lends a sense of volume. He produced several House sculptures, all of which can be connected to Lichtenstein's interest in the interiors of buildings, a subject he visited most explicitly in his later work.

Fabricated and painted aluminum, © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein - The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

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Roy Lichtenstein
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Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Roy Lichtenstein Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Rachel Gershman
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 21 Jun 2010. Updated and modified regularly
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