Artist Insight – Roy #Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein was the epitome of Pop art. His paintings are instantly recognizable through his use of Benday Dots, bold colors and thick lines. This recognition, as one of Pop Art’s Greats, came late in life for the artist. Lichtenstein knew he wanted to make a living from his artwork, but it wasn’t until his late 30’s that he was able to do so. Until that time, he supported himself mostly through teaching. When Leo Castelli took the artist under his wing and put together his first solo-show in 1962, Lichtenstein became an overnight sensation. The entire show had sold out before the opening night. 

Lichtenstein’s work reinvigorated the American art scene and altered the history of modern art. After his triumph at Castelli’s famed gallery, he went on to create a body of work of more than 5,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, murals and other objects celebrated for their wit and invention.

The Artist’s Process

Most famously, Lichtenstein appropriated the Benday dots. The dots became a trademark device forever identified with the artist and Pop Art. In order to achieve the dots, the artist would use various kinds of stencils with perforated patterns that he would brush paint across, creating perfect circles void of brush strokes. 

Benday dot printing is a minute mechanical patterning used in commercial engraving consisting of small colored dots. The process is named after illustrator and printer Benjamin Henry Day Jr. who invented it in 1879. Originally, this technique was used in the printing of Pulp Comic Books in the 50’s and 60’s as an inexpensive way to create shading and secondary colors. Lichtenstein elevated a cheap, commercial printing process into fine art, managing to evoke strong emotions. 

Title by Roy Lichenstein

This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Titled by Roy Lichtenstein. The print was produced for the 1996 election cycle for the effort “Artists for Freedom of Expression.” It was to benefit the candidates and organizations that supported federal funding of the arts. Sixteen of the nations most respected contemporary artists were solicited to donate work that would be sold to directly benefit the cause, among them were Chuck Close, Peter Haley, Jenny Holzer, Elsworth Kelly, Bruce Newman, Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist. 

While Lichtenstein is known for his use of Benday dots, in this particular image, the style he uses is called Halftone. Benday dots are always the same size, Halftone dots on the other hand, are always the same color and vary in size and/or spacing and create a gradient or atmospheric perspective. In this work, the halftone dots become smaller in the distance, implying the vastness of the sea. 

With just a few simple, strategic swathes, Lichtenstein is able to suggest the features of a landscape. A thick blue line represents the horizon while an undulating green one delineates the shore from the water. The sun is particularly interesting, a yellow monotone circle with a curious black crescent shape. Finally, the texture of the leaves and trees is fascinating, as thought the artist created the foliage with a paint filled sponge which brings to mind a more abstract style. 

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