Roy Lichtenstein: American Pop Artist
Comics and graphic novels have been a huge influence in my life. I grew up reading SuperGirl, Archie, Scooby-Doo, and when I had run out, I read the comics section in the local newspaper. As I got older, I graduated to manga (Japanese comics) and graphic novels, which I still have a library of on my living room bookshelf. The look of graphic novels and comics always stuck out to me; influencing me in my own artwork as well. The crisp outlines, bright colors, and the use of dots or lines to convey shading is fascinating to me.
Seeing the similarities, my AP Art Teacher in High School showed me the artwork of Roy Lichtenstein. I was fascinated that this man who made large scale comic-esque paintings was considered a world renowned artist. When most people hear about manga/graphic novels/comics, there is that “nerd/otaku” stereotype that still clings to those words. This made my love of comics validated in some way. In college, I re-discovered this artist while in a gallery in New York City on a school sponsored trip. By then, I had learned about Roy Lichtenstein’s involvement with the Pop Art Movement of the 1960’s and the politics surrounding it. The Pop Art Movement was a direct challenge to Abstract Expressionism. Abstract Expressionism was birthed post WWII, during a time when the atrocities of the war were brought to light. This era of artwork is characterized by abstract designs and expressive strokes of media, a good example being Jackson Pollock‘s artwork.
Roy Lichtenstein grew up in Manhattan’s Upper West Side loving comics and science. His love for comics developed into a love of art and in his teens, much like me, he began harnessing that creativity and began art school. He furthered his art studies when he enrolled at The Ohio State University (O-H-I-O!), but was interrupted when he was drafted to serve in WWII. Upon returning, he finished his undergraduate and master’s degree in Fine Art. Growing up in a slightly different time periods and wealthier circumstances, Roy Lichtenstein’s artwork did not end up like Jackson Pollock’s. Instead, it took a cynical approach to advertisements and a colder look at fine art.
Roy Lichtenstein’s art is not about inner feelings and emotions, like Abstract Expressionism. Pop Art is about commercialism, kitsch, and irony. It takes a look at the American culture, analyzes it, and then puts it on display. Despite having a fine arts degree, Lichtenstein used stencils to create his works. He would enlarge comics and advertisements and trace them to make them larger. He chose this method of creating his artwork to mimic the mass-production of printmaking processes that create comics. He even went a step further and would employ Ben-Day Dots to create colors and shading, versus just coloring the image in. It’s brilliant, really. Pop Art elevated the mundane to fine art.
Lichtenstein became absurdly famous over his trademark style of artwork. After being tired of reproducing art from comic books, he began recreating works from 20th century masters, such as Picasso, and other subject matter in his cartoon-style of art. He was commissioned for murals in several cities, including Columbus, OH, and continued creating art until his death in 1997.
His work can still be seen in museum’s, such as MoMA, and the murals are still viewable to the public. He has also been featured on the Biography channel and numerous art-nerds dress up as Lichtenstein’s comic girls every Halloween. You can learn more about Roy Lichtenstein at the Lichtenstein Foundation website.
Inspired by Roy Lichtenstein
While Lichtenstein’s color palette is limited like Piet Mondrian’s, the colors are robust and vivid, which I personally love. Along with large blocks of color, the Ben-Day dots give shading and depth where the blocks of color cannot. Heavy use of primary colors make the images pop (pun intended), and thick black outlines really tie in the comic book look and feel.
Using Lichtenstein’s art in interior design really makes a room look bold. The comic book art style may seem like only lovers of the genre would want this style in their home, but the opposite couldn’t be more true. There are many ways you could incorporate Lichtenstein into your home’s decor. I personally love the bathroom scene with it’s funky Lichtenstein wall tiles and bold colored bathtub and accessories. But the more subtle and elegant white room with the red chair really makes a statement with it’s simple use of color. Color can make or break a room, especially when it comes to Roy Lichtenstein’s paintings. It’s best to bring out the subtleties versus covering your home in large swatches of blue, red, or yellow.
I wanted to incorporate the 1960’s into Lichtenstein’s room scene I created, since this was the time period in which he became famous. Now, I know a lot of the 1960’s was considered tacky, but the vintage style of your grandma and mint green are making a come-back. When I think 1960’s, I think girls in pencil skirts and cat glasses typing away at their computers. Filing cabinets and a large desk is a must for this type of decor. I went with making the mint green desk a focal point, with the Lichtenstein painting Drowning Girl front and center. One of his most notable pieces, and one of my favorites. The red candy dish is actually an homage to my grandmother who always kept Hershey kisses in a little candy bowl in her office. Instead of opting for tacky linoleum flooring, I used Allen + Roth Hickory Warm Cherry engineered hardwood flooring. I could have chosen a solid hardwood since engineered hardwood was in it’s infancy in the 1960’s, but I prefer the stability of engineered hardwood versus solid hardwood. If you happen to have a home office in your basement, engineered hardwood is okay for the below grade installation. Just keep in mind, if your basement is prone to leaks, installing any hardwood would be a bad idea. Now, you have the tools to create a non-tacky version of the 1960’s decor with Lichtenstein’s paintings, have a go at it yourself!