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Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist Who Shocked The World - Yellow Magpie

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Published on December 5th, 2011 | by Yellow Magpie


Roy Lichtenstein: The Artist Who Shocked The World


You will know it when you see it. Instantly recognisable and plainly ubiquitous it can be seen everywhere. From advertising billboards, to television, to comic books to art galleries the work of Roy Lichtenstein has permeated the fabric of our everyday lives. 

The Early Days

Roy Lichtenstein grew up in the wealthy, West Side of New York city. His father was a real estate agent while his mother was a housewife with a talent for the piano. The family lived next door to the famous Russian pianist and composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

According to Roy Lichtenstein’s sister, Renee Tolcott, their mother was quite emotionally cold, distant and seemingly indifferent to the needs of her children.

His parents had very low expectations for their son. Lichtenstein was drafted into the U.S. Air Force during World War Two. There he served his time as a cartographer.

Cap De Barcelona By Roy Lichtenstein

The Moulding Of An Artist

Lichtenstein had an initial dislike of cartoons and resented drawing them as he believed they did not constitute true art.
Roy sought out active duty and was a soldier in the Battle of Bulge.

Lichtenstein’s early art was very different from his famous, iconic images. His era coincided with the two great movements of 20th century art, abstract expressionism and pop art. Although Lichtenstein dabbled in abstract expressionism it was pop art that would shape and ultimately create his name.

Ben-Day Dots

The signature of Roy Lichtenstein’s art is his exaggerated use of Ben-Day dots. These small coloured dots were used in the magazine industry to produce cost-effective shading and colouring in their publications. They were used especially in comic books.

Lichtenstein used Ben-Day dots in a way that was certainly not intended by their inventor, Benjamin Henry Day. Instead of having barely discernible dots he blew them up in scale, so much so that some people considered them to be grotesque and shocking.

The Making Of Pop Art

Lichtenstein took art in a new direction, out of the galleries and into the everyday. Soviet art critic, Viktor Shklovsky encapsulates the nature of art and is a textbook example of what Lichtenstein’s paintings achieved.

‘The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.’

The nature of some art and its masters who breathe it life and give it existence is often circular and all together human. People have an ambiguous relationship with change. Many of us like things to remain the same, we find comfort in the familiar, the objects, activities and faces that surround us in the everyday.

Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl

Yet we still need variety and change, although when it does arrive it can often create shockwaves. Art is not far removed from this. Someone comes up with a new style that turns out to be so radically different from its predecessor that it is deemed iconoclasm. Gradually, over time, the mainstream encroaches and what was once unsettling and radical becomes absorbed and part of the furniture. And then the process  repeats itself, again and again.

Roy Lichtenstein was a paragon of the path new art takes. He work stunned and horrified people when it first appeared. There was nothing quite like it. His work basically seemed to suggest that art was everywhere and comic books and advertisements were just as valid as anything found in the art gallery.

End Game

Unlike his contemporary, Andy Warhol, Lichtenstein was never comfortable with fame and resisted being in the limelight. He continued creating art virtually up the his death in 1997.

Like all maverick, trail-blazing artists, Roy Lichtenstein’s work, initially so shocking, has been absorbed into established art. Many of his paintings are considered to be the best pop art has to offer. Through these Lichtenstein has taken his place amongst the pantheon of great artists.

Recommended Reading

Check out Yellow Magpie’s Roy Lichtenstein Quotes: The Artist Who Changed Art for further insight into the man.

Roy Lichtenstein: Classic Of The New by Roy Lichtenstein is a great work that includes many of the artist’s paintings from the studio and spans over four decades. It also includes a biography based on his exhibitions. The biography is theme-based and is a great tool for offering an insight into his work.

You can obtain Roy Lichtenstein: Classic Of The New here from Amazon.

For people living in Ireland or the United Kingdom, you can access: Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New from here.

For Canada: Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New.

For Germany: Roy Lichtenstein. Classic of the New. .

For France: Roy Lichtenstein: Classic of the New.

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