Roy Lichtenstein

As there is a large retrospective of Lichtensteins work on at the Tate Modern at the moment, and I am a particular admirer of his work, I thought I would do a little more research into his work. My husband has been lucky enough to visit (and bring me back the exhibition catalogue), and I saw a number of the pieces in a Pop Art exhibition in the 1990’s at the Royal Academy.

Lichtenstein’s work was contraversial as he challenged people’s view of fine art as part of the Pop Art  movement. He was largely influenced by Picasso, and his contemporary Warhol. It was after visiting Warhols studio in the 1960’s that he produced works based on advertisements of the time. His work has been referred to as “mechanised impressionism”, using Benday spots (after their inventor Benjamin Day) and smooth blocks of colour in the manner of cartoons on a massive scale.

He started working entirely in oil paint, using a home made metal screen from drilled aluminium to push the paint through with a scrub brush. In his earlier works such as “The Kiss” 1961, the size of the screen and irregularities caused by excess paint pushing through are quite obvious. He later switched to using a pre-fabricated mesh with larger holes with a cleaner result. He also tried using water based Liquitex, but later settled on a turps-soluble water-based paint called Magna for the block colours as it remains smooth as more layers are added. He used Magna based varnish in between layers. For the spots, he stayed with oil based paint as it stayed wet for longer, which was important where colour adjustments were needed.

Lichtenstein The Kiss 1962

“The Kiss” 1962

"Little Big Painting" 1965

“Little Big Painting” 1965

I am particularly interested by his series of paintings based on brushstrokes, including “Brushstrokes” and “Little Big Painting”, both 1965. He described these as “…the depiction of a grand gesture”, where expansive expressive brushstrokes are replicated in a flattened, dispassionate way. This work was considered by some to be a parody of abstract expressionists such as Jackson Pollock, and for me is a meditation on controlled and contrived marks versus free expressive marks. I imagine it to be a huge challenge to produce a piece that is deliberately flattened (I am thinking also of his black and white consumer products series of 1962 “Sock”, “Tire”, “Portable Radio”, “Golf Ball”), and yet still visually arresting. He does this with bold line and sheer scale.

"Seascape" 1964

“Seascape” 1964

I also find his seascapes and later Chinese landscapes of particular interest, especially with printmaking in mind. The use of Benday spots for shading is very effective, and it remains fascinating to me how a uniform area of one colour spots on another can appear to change, affected by the adjacent colour used.


N Dunne “Lichtenstein” Tate 2012

“Lichtenstein: A Retrospective” Tate Modern 2013 exhibition guide


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