For many American artists in the late 1950s the prevailing artistic trend of Abstract Expressionism could no longer express anything relevant in a world dominated by popular culture and mass consumerism. Pioneering Pop Art printmaker and painter Roy Lichtenstein burst onto the scene in the early 1960s with a solution to the problem — an instantly iconic comic-strip style belonging to a Postmodern age in which the boundaries between high and low art had become for ever blurred.
Lichtenstein, the son of a real estate broker, was raised on New York’s Upper West Side. He studied at the Art Students League and Ohio State University before being drafted into the US Army. Returning to Ohio State in 1946, he developed a style influenced by Cubism and Abstract Expressionism but, though his early work contained elements of popular and historical culture, it wasn’t until he was teaching at New Jersey’s Rutgers University that he began to appropriate the style and subject matter of comic strips. Look Mickey appeared in 1961 and its method was furthered in works such as Masterpiece (1962) incorporating the Ben-Day dot, the pointillist printing technique used by the newspaper industry.
By 1964 Lichtenstein’s work had earned him fame and notoriety enough for Life magazine to run a profile titled, ‘Is He the Worst Artist in America?’ The artist would often be dogged by specious accusations of banality and plagiarism, but Lichtenstein’s project was one overtly involved with ideas of reproduction and the elevation of the clichés and banalities of popular culture to an iconic, monumental scale. As he said himself: ‘I am never drawing the object. I’m only drawing a depiction of the object — a kind of crystallized symbol of it.’ With paintings like Whaam! (1963) and lithographs such as Crying Girl (1963) he would create some of the most iconic and important works of Pop Art.
Later in his career he would apply his Pop principals in reverse, with pastiches of established artistic traditions — for example Purism in Purist Painting with Bottles (1975), and Abstract Expressionism in Yellow and Green Brushstrokes (1966).
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