"I think that most people think painters
are kind of ridiculous, you know?"
The artwork of Roy Lichtenstein is preceded coming from a purely pop perspective. But that is just a perception.
He began his art study under Reginald Marsh at the Art Students League in New York while still
a student in New York’s Benjamin Franklin High School. He went on to study under Hoyt Sherman
at the School of Fine Arts at Ohio State University, Columbus. Taking three years off to serve in the Army in World War II
as a map maker for the US military in France and Belgium, he returned to his art studies and began teaching art. At this time
he was working in an abstract style. In early 1960 he began to create works that had loosely drawn cartoon characters collaged
into his abstract paintings. As the story goes, his son David showed him a Mickey Mouse comic and said he wished his
dad could make art as cool as Mickey Mouse and not all the abstract paintings. Attempting to be as cool as a comic, this
moment was a major factor in the development of Lichtenstein's pop art style. By 1961, comic-strips became his primary focus.
He became friends with many artists that were experimenting with the inclusion of everyday life into their artworks, including:
George Segal, Robert Whitman, and Claes Oldenburg.
Lichtenstein's comic-strips generally fell into two distinct categories. Either they focused on violent
action or they centered on sentimental love. One of his most known artworks was the violent
Whaam!. A cartoon American fighter jet shoots down another plain with an obvious Whaam! The work was based on the 1962 DC comic
book "All American Men of War". “I'm not really sure what social message my art carries, if any.
And I don't really want it to carry one. I'm not interested in the subject matter to try to teach society anything, or to
try to better our world in anyway.”
1963. Magna on Canvas. 68 x 166 inches. Tate Collection.
On the other side of his work, one of the better known of his sentimental love paintings is his Drowning Girl. This comes from another DC Comic, this one from 1962 titled "Run for Love!". The original test proclaimed, "I don't
care if I have a cramp!", but Lichtenstein shortened the text to "I don't care!" and changed the boyfriends name from Mel
to Brad. “My work is unlike comic strips in that every mark is in a different
place. The difference may not be great, but it is crucial.”
1963. Oil on Canvas. 68 x 66 ¾ inches. Museum of Modern Art,
New York, USA.
Although he was primarily known for his paintings, Lichtenstein was also known
to work in ceramic media; create jewelry in silver, bronze and steel; woodcut prints; wood assemblages; and film.
Lichtenstein’s interest in the comics are significant for a couple
of reasons. First off they are considered by most to be a cheep kids activity. But strangely, many adults will spend great
deals of money to get a part of their past back. Because this kids comic is obviously geared toward kids, it is also seen
by many professional artists as a lower peg on the higher achy of artists. "I'm interested in what would
normally be considered the worst aspects of commercial art. I think it's the tension between what seems to be so rigid and
clinched and the fact that art really can't be this way." Although he did work from many sources including still lifes, he would generally get his ideas from outside sources and because he makes almost direct copies of the comics, many contemporary
art critics see him as the worst American artist ever and many do not even consider him an artist at all. In 1952, at an exhibition
of his art at the Art Colony Galleries in Cleveland one of his drawings with a thirty dollar price tag was described by an
art critic for the Cleveland News as “truly like the doodling of a five-year-old.” Many others see him as a second,
only to Andy Warhol, on the spectrum of Pop Art greats. Sadly, the artist died in New York from complications of pneumonia.