Oct. 27 marks the 94th anniversary of Roy Fox Lichtenstein’s birth. The pop art trailblazer was born in 1923 and lived to age 73, leaving an immense body of compelling, in-your-face art that appeals to anyone who loves comic-book-style graphics – and isn’t that just about everyone?
Immense, in this instance, means more than 5,000 pieces created over a period of three decades. Often regaled for his prints, Lichtenstein’s creations also included paintings, drawings, murals, and sculptures, among other types of art.
His appreciation for artistic expression formed early in his childhood in New York. His mother, Beatrice, was a homemaker with training as a pianist, and it is said that she made it a priority to expose her children – Roy and younger sister Rénee – to as much artistic culture as the city could offer. This inspired Lichtenstein during his undergraduate studies at Ohio State University, an education he would complete in two parts: before and after his military service during World War II. Even during his time in Europe, he continued to hone his artistic skills. He had hoped to study at the Sorbonne in Paris but ended up returning to the United States in the mid-1940s upon receiving news of his father’s illness.
After his father’s passing, Lichtenstein remained stateside and resumed his studies at Ohio State. Upon completing his studies, Lichtenstein become a member of the university’s faculty. Academia would become a hallmark of Lichtenstein’s early professional life. In addition to OSU, he taught at the State University of New York at Oswego and Douglass College in New Jersey. Prior to focusing his efforts full time on creating art, his work history included modern interior design, furniture design, and even window dressing.
Artist’s Trademark: By including Benday dots, a symbol of mechanical patterns often used in industrial engraving, Lichtenstein incorporated a unique form of texture within his artwork. The dots became synonymous with the artist and a pop-art staple.
The familiarity and popularity of Roy Lichtenstein’s work is due in part to his printmaking. These pieces are considered original art although they are prints of an original surface. Different from commercial prints, fine-art prints are limited in number and often signed by the artist. The printing technique most often used by Lichtenstein during his career was screenprinting (also referred to as silkscreen printing). This technique found a fan in pop-art master Andy Warhol, who used it to develop his own distinctive style. It also influenced the work of Lichtenstein and others active in the early pop-art movement. In the simplest terms, screenprinting involves applying a stencil to a screen through which ink passes, rendering an image on the blank space.
A Lichtenstein print never before offered at auction is among the works featured in Sotheby’s Postwar and Contemporary Evening Sale, Nov. 16, 2017. The print Female Head was created by Lichtenstein in 1977 and carries an auction estimate of $10 million to $15 million.
Lichtenstein was very obviously influenced by cartoon and comic art. Like some early comic books, the themes explored and subjects presented in his artwork were not always tranquil. They defined pop art through parody, often in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
As prolific as he was in creating cartoon-influenced pop art during the second and third quarters of the 20th century, Lichtenstein didn’t shy away from exploring other genres and movements, including cubism, surrealism, and expressionism; as well as other media, such as sculptures and murals. In the late 20th century, he created five murals and significant sculptures in six cities around the world.
The artist continued to work into his 70s, until succumbing unexpectedly to complications of pneumonia in 1997. Although he has been gone for two decades, Lichtenstein’s work continues to captivate and attract new fans, often with “Biff!,” “Pow!” or “Wham!”