born: 1923 New York City
died: 1999 New York
Roy Lichtenstein's works should be understood as pictures of pictur He finds his motifs in printed matter - comic strips, commercial ill trations (which indirectly inspired the landscapes), and reproductio Like Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein is concerned to bridge representatio art and abstraction. By exaggerating banal imagery whose content has grown meaningless, and concentrating on its formal values alon' he raises these to aesthetic status and makes them the true subject'. ofthe painting. What distinguishes Lichtenstein from Johns and makes him a Pop Artist is his interest in the "anti-sensibility" that pervades socie the "brazen and threatening characteristics of our culture," its apath" and lack of compassion - but also in the energies mobilized by a "commercialized landscape." Lichtenstein and the Pop Artists are convinced we live in a world in which people let their emotions be developed rather than being truly emotional. It is this indifference; this conventional, stereotyped, and ultimately empty emotion Lichteri' stein says he wishes to convey. Thus his interest in comics, which, he said in an interview in 1963, "express violent emotion and passion in a completeVy mecha cal and removed style." This is , evident in the scenes chosen and in the frenetically insistent : yet somehow resoundingly hollow words issuing from the mouths of the characters in Takka-Takka 1965), Mad Scren (1963), and M-Maybe (A Girls Picture) (1965). The gap between the hackneyed content and the high aesthetic culture of these paint- ings can be extremely pravoking: Yet Lichtenstein's aim, as Wieland Schmied notes, is precisely to take these "idealized wish-images af consumer society" as starting points for the development of "a well-nigh classical form." This is perhaps why he limits himself to the primary colors and strong light-dark contrasts. When we compare Takka-Takka to the original comic frame, the extent to which Lichten- stein condenses individual forms and raises the event shown to a universal level becomes clear. In addition, he accentuatesthe sim- ilarities comics have with past styles in art. The flames shooting from the machine-gun muzzle, or the wavy blonde hair of the girl in M-Maybe, call the sinuosities ofArt Nouveau to mind. MadScientr'st also contains an ironic allusion to fine art. The action is shifted into the vicinity of a museum, where, indicatively, the scientist is worried not about a potential art theft but about the theft of souvenirs. Lichtenstein's working procedure seems almost Dadaist, not only because he blows up miniature images to monumental scale. He projects a free sketch of the original image, rather than the original itself, onto canvas, then proceeds to restore it to a mechanical look approaching that of the original. Then he applies the printing screen (or Ben Gay) dots with a stencil. Lichtenstein uses Magna paints soluble in terpentine so that alterations remain invisible and eve hint of a personal hand is expunged. In 1964. Lichtenstein began painting landscapes. In addition to sunrises and sunsets, he was particularly interested in clouds, because, las he said, their representation in comic strips had become so unreal that they fascinated him as a concretization ofan abstract idea. Explosions intrigue him for similar reasons, since they have no fixed form but change rapidly over time. Lichtenstein translates the symbolic depictions of comic-book artists into plastic terms in order, he once said, to create something absolutely concrete out of something transient. The year 1967 marked a turn to the aesthetic of the 1930s, Art Deco (as seen in the Studyfor "Preparedness"). The imagery became correspondingly more geometric and heroic in effect. According to the artist, he searched for what was shared in common by the architectural forms of that epoch, its fashions and the works of painters like Theo van Doesburg. The art of the 193os, he concluded, obeyed a meaningless logic based on circle, angle and triangle. Lichtenstein thought it must have been the first time in history that people consciously attempted to be modern. They believed they were modern much more were modern much more strongly than we today do, and their art presented a naive and innocent falsification that appealed to him. While the four-part work seems to demonstrate the structural misunderstanding arising from a systematic arrangement of four unified elements ("meaningless logic"), the Study can be seen as a satirica! homage to America's military-industrial complex. The utopian reconciliation of nature with industry envisaged by Leger has been transformed by Lichtenstein into its very opposite, despite the clase affinities that Lichtenstein's harsh, industrial formal language displays with that of Léger. Remember, in 1968 the Vietnam War was at its high point, as were the protests of enraged and saddened Americans at home. Beginning in the late 197os Lichtenstein painted a series of pictures relating to German Expressionism, such as Landscape with Figures and Rainbow. It is remarkable that here, for the first time, the artist has left visible brushwork in several passages of the composition.