The 10 Most Famous Artworks of Roy Lichtenstein
From Masterpiece to the Drowning Girl to the Crying Girl to Look Mickey...
Roy Lichtenstein was one of the most influential and innovative artists of the second half of the twentieth century. He is preeminently identified with Pop Art, a movement he helped originate, and his first fully achieved paintings were based on imagery from comic strips and advertisements and rendered in a style mimicking the crude printing processes of newspaper reproduction.
These paintings reinvigorated the American art scene and altered the history of modern art. Lichtenstein’s success was matched by his focus and energy, and after his initial triumph in the early 1960s, he went on to create an oeuvre of more than 5,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, murals and other objects celebrated for their wit and invention.
niood lists the 10 Most Famous Artworks of Roy Lichtenstein:
As the speech bubble indicates, the man’s name is Brad. Brad features in several of Lichtenstein’s paintings, with Drowning Girl being a prime example. When questioned about the figure of Brad in his art, Lichtenstein stated that he liked the name because it sounded both cliched and heroic. This made Brad the perfect protagonist for Pop Art, a genre which aimed to create art that was not snobbishly ‘high brow’ but which created links with popular culture, and which was thus designed for popular consumption.
Drowning Girl (1963) is one of the most famous paintings of American Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. It was based on the cover of the 1962 comic book Run for Love by DC Comics. Lichtenstein significantly altered the original illustration, which shows the girl drowning in the foreground with her boyfriend in the background clinging to an overturned boat. The narrative text in the illustration presents a melodramatic love story: the girl is drowning because of a leg cramp, but she is so grief-stricken that she decides to drown instead of calling out to her boyfriend for help.
Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl” goes beyond his desire to create comic-like artworks. Here, he studies the gendered aspects of the female identity. Immediately, the viewer’s focus lays upon the emotions of the subject, as it takes over the painting. She has a sense of stress in both her gaze and physical stance. Lichtenstein sheds light on how there was still a lack of female dominance at this time. She seems almost trapped, similar to the state of many women in America during the 1960’s, as women were fighting for equality.
Look Mickey represents the first time Roy Lichtenstein directly transposed a scene and a style from a source of popular culture, the 1960 children’s book Donald Duck: Lost and Found. In the image, Disney icons Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse stand on a pier. Staring at the water, fishing pole raised above his head, Donald thinks he has caught a fish when he has actually snagged his own coattail. Behind him stands Mickey, stifling a giggle at his friend’s mistake. The text, “LOOK MICKEY, I’VE HOOKED A BIG ONE,” mockingly hangs over Donald’s unsuspecting head.
This painting is one of a series from the early 1960s in which Lichtenstein deals with the theme of romance. He would paint his works on a monumental scale, much enlarged from his original source material of comic-strip illustrations. This work is based on an image from the comic Girls’ Romances. The original illustration included a thought bubble which read, ‘I vowed to myself I would not miss my appointment – That I would not go riding with him – Yet before I knew it…’ His paintings present archetypal images of contemporary America, simultaneously glamorous, mundane, dramatic and impersonal. Lichtenstein conveys the essence of the time, depicting recognisable ‘types’, such as the beautiful blonde woman and handsome, square-jawed man seen in this painting.
Hopeless painting depicts a vulnerable teary- eyed young woman who seams stressed up. The woman fills the majority of the canvas. However, Roy made some modifications to the original painting by applying bright and vibrant colors together with wavy and bold lines which intensify the emotions in the painting scene.
The painting Hopeless communicates to the viewer and in this way Lichtenstein was able to communicate his message to the painting viewers. Although the paintings was from a comical source, the artist wanted to depict the stress that women go through especially with romance issues.
Happy Tears features, like many of Lichtenstein’s art works, a central female figure who is experiencing a strong emotion. There is a sense of almost mass produced reality here as the woman’s hair matches the colour of her nails. As such, viewers become aware that Lichtenstein has used the same colour of paint for both parts of this painting and thus we cannot escape the recognition that she has been created by an artist and is not a real person.
Like most of Lichtenstein’s works, Happy Tears has both a three dimensional and a two dimensional feel to it, thanks to the pattern of repeated dots that help to make up the woman’s skin. This, in its turn, adds to the unreality of the woman whilst at the same time adding a sense of depth and verve to Lichtenstein’s depiction of her.
Lichtenstein’s 1960s works were comic-inspired – they’re angsty frames, often featuring ladies in distress. In one iconic image, a beautiful, fraught woman with a furrowed brow grasps a telephone in both hands as she says “Ohh … Alright …” You just know she’s talking to a fellow. Who knows what he’s saying to her and what she’s reluctantly agreeing to. Lichtenstein lets us imagine the back story – and what might happen next.
Lichtenstein used strong, defined lines and bright colours as a reflection of the popular comic book art of the time. In this particular painting, he creates the emotion on the conflicted woman’s face with just a few easy lines, and by doing so he puts tension into the scene without overcrowding it.
The close-up on the woman’s face and the way she holds the phone in such a dramatic manner is a direct parody of many romantic comedy comics known at the time, in which the protagonist would suffer a temporary hurdle in her relationship which, as every reader was aware, would eventually be resolved.
The work’s composition is taken from a panel drawn by Irv Novick which appeared in issue number 89 of All-American Men of War, published by DC Comics in February 1962. From the original panel, Lichtenstein produced preliminary drawings, one of which is in Tate’s collection (Drawing for ‘Whaam!’ 1963, Tate T01131). In this drawing, he set out his first visualisation of the painting, including marking the divide of the original single panel into two parts, confining the main plane to one and the explosion to the other. Revealing Lichtenstein’s process of making minor changes during a work’s creation, the colour annotations on the drawing are different to the final colours used in the painting, notably the use of yellow instead of white for the letters of ‘WHAAM!’. To make the final painting, Lichtenstein projected the preparatory study onto the two pre-primed canvases and drew around the projection in pencil before applying the Ben-Day dots. This involved using a homemade aluminium mesh and pushing oil paint through the holes with a small scrubbing brush. Onto this he painted the thick outlines of shapes and areas of solid colour in Magna acrylic resin paint.