Roy Lichtenstein, a famous American pop artist, was born on October 27, 1923 in New York City. He was a prominent part of the Pop Art Movement during the late 1950s and 1960s along with other artists like Andy Warhol and James Rosenquist.
When Lichtenstein was younger, he had heavy interest in science and comic books. He later started to develop an interest in art and took watercolor classes at Parsons School of Design in the 1930s. He continued to study art as an undergrad, but his studies were interrupted when he was drafted during World War II. He worked as a map maker, draftsman, and artist during the war, and when his military time was over, he returned to the United States and finished his undergraduate and master’s degrees in fine art. While receiving his master’s at Ohio State, he was hired as an art instructor, a position he held for 10 years. He worked various jobs after that including being a draftsman and window decorator. In his spare time, he focused on his painting, and began exploring Expressionism and Cubism.
In the late 1950s, he returned to New York and began teaching art again and evolving his own work into Abstract Expressionism. While teaching at Rutgers University, Lichtenstein was influenced by fellow teacher Allan Kaprow and Kaprow’s exploration into the unknown world of performance art which he called “Happenings.” Kaprow’s influence made Lichtenstein start to think about the art world in a different way, and how his art could fit into this world in a varying and influential way. The work he began to produce after this was a commentary on the popular culture of America and a reaction to the Abstract Expressionist paintings that were widely known in the art world at that time by painters like Jackson Pollack. Rather than embracing a completely abstract way of painting that lacked a subject, Lichtenstein based the subjects of his paintings on popular American advertisements and comics of the time. He mimicked their look and feel, but added in his own personal commentary. He even mimicked commercial printing techniques in his paintings with the use of Ben-Day dots and hard-edged, precise illustration.
Lichtenstein’s first solo show at the Castelli Gallery in New York was wildly successful. Before the show opened, all his paintings sold to some of New York’s most prestigious collectors. Lichtenstein’s work struck a cultural nerve, and brought him to the forefront of the pop art movement, making way for other pop artists.
Lichtenstein’s rise to popularity also meant a rise in wealth, and he was soon able to quit his teaching job to focus on his art. He became notorious for the deadpan humor and ability to make a signature piece of art by mimicking mass produced images from the media. His paintings had dual effects on people – many didn’t know if they should accept it as art or anti-art, humorous or disturbing, or celebrating or mocking popular culture. He became very popular with collectors like Leo Castelli of Castelli Gallery who showed Lichtenstein’s art for 30 years. The debate and controversy over Lichtenstein’s paintings made a lasting mark on the world of art.
Today there are around 5,000 Lichtenstein paintings in circulation all over the world. At auctions, his art is usually among the most highly sought after, and sells for record-breaking prices. In 2010 “Ohhh…Alright…” sold at Christies for $42.6 million dollars and in 2012 “Sleeping Girl” sold at Sotheby’s for $44.8 million.