When you see a painting done by Roy Lichtenstein, you immediately know it’s his work: piece that looks like mechanical reproduction with very few colors and thick black outline filled with, of course, his famous dots. Along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein was one of the pioneers of Pop Art movement that emerged in 1950’s; the movement that heavily relied on mass produced culture and blurred lines between high and low art by including everyday objects into artwork.
Born in Manhattan, Roy was shy and tender character who worked as an art teacher until his 30’s. Admiring classic art and always aspiring to become an artist, he tried to fit into ruling abstract expressionist movement. But the trend that always aimed to represent violence and trauma in soul didn’t come easy to this mild man. In the process oftrying to work out how to define style for himself, his son challenges him to draw something good as a cartoon. So Roy painted cartoon characters simply as they appeared, and in 1961 “Look Mickey” painting was created! With oversized Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse on canvas, Roy was onto something. Looking at this first cartoon painting, Lichtenstein admitted he’d gone beyond his taste, but couldn’t go back. From then on, although his pieces are all hand painted, he’s deliberately trying to reproduce mechanically made images. At that time, this was a volcanic change: with this machine-like process Lichtenstein removes artist from art completely and yet, you can see both him and his style.
Living in a mass consumption world, Roy very well understood power of branding and was interested in advertising quality of images. That’s why he created a series of paintings based on adverts; simplified isolated objects against dots or empty backgrounds. In this way, Lichtenstein created his own brand and painted everyday culture preoccupied with consumption, satirizing those values. Nevertheless, efficient advertisement world took advantage of his obsession and used his paintings to again sell their products. This was a kind of mutual recycling – Lichtenstein used them to turn low-cost products into high art and advertisement used him back returning the product to cheap mass consumption article.
Enlarged comic book cutouts, his most famous work that he had done in the 1960’s, can be somehow divided into two types of paintings: masculine and feminine. One represented the man as a warrior (a pilot or officer), and other showed (blond) girls crying over romance; very passive females as opposed to male amplified activity. In any way, Lichtenstein wanted to present passion (either in fight or in love) mocking the idea that war hero and beautiful woman in love is everyone’s fantasy. And the very fact that Roy’s paintings exaggerated banal is the part of why these images worked. In this cliché he found his originality and showed that popular culture understands society better than art. Even his distinctive trademark, Benday dot technique, Roy explains with the fact that dots have no sensitivity. He even used stencil for making those dots, deliberately making the whole painting process absurd.
Therefore the most impressive thing about Roy Lichtenstein as an artist is machine-like results that are actually hand made and their impact in both visual and written message. And while many thought that his work has been polluting fine art and wonder should his images be judged as homage or plagiarism, Roy declared victory of Pop Art in painting. And Lichtenstein understands there’s no way to prove this: “I know that my work has been accused of looking like the things I copy (…) I believe that I am transforming this into something else… Or at least that I’m transforming art.”
So his marks that are impersonal, flat and distant only demonstrate comment on the impersonal and cold world he lives in. This is how master of irony gives funny, bold and yet sophisticated references to culture around him helping the modern art to become mainstream.