L I F E....... M A G A Z I N E....... J A N U A R Y...31 , ..1 9 6 4.
For some of America's best known critics and a host of laymen, the answer to the above question is a resounding YES. A critic of the New York Times, hedging only a bit, pronounced Roy Lichtenstein "one of the worst artists in America." Others insist that he is no artist at all, that his paintings of blown-up comic strips, cheap ads and reproductions are tedious copies of the banal. But an equally emphatic group of critics, museum officials and collectors find Lichtenstein's pop art "fascinating","forceful", "starkly beautiful". Provocatve though they are, Lichtenstein's paintings have done more than stir up controversy. They have done something significant to art. The critical stew enveloping his work is: gratifying to Lichtenstein. A quiet, affable man of 40, he fully expected to be condemned for the subject matter as well as the style of his paintings. But he little dreamed that within two years of his first pop exhibition, his canvases would be selling out at prices up to $4,000 and he himself would be a cause celebre of the art world.
In 1951 Lichtenstein translated american artist William Rainey's Emigrant Train into Picasso-like shapes (above). Later he tried out variations on Disney cartoons (above right).
At the outset of his career Lichtenstein was engrossed in19th Century Americana. He liked painting cowboys and Indians in modern art styles. Gradually he worked his way into 20th Century Americana like Mickey Mouse and bubble gum wrappers. In 1961 Lichtenstein began to explore comic books. Extracting single scenes, he translated them into paintings, using the techniques shown at right.
Starting with a scene from a science fiction comic book (right top), Lichtenstein made a small sketch of the composition. Then he used a machine to project the sketch to the size he wanted and traced it onto his canvas. To simulate photoengraver's dots, Lichtenstein laid a metal screen on the canvas, spread oil paint over the screen with a roller and rubbed the paint through the holes with a toothbrush (second from top right). Undotted parts of the picture were masked with paper (third from top right). Lichtenstein then painted in the letters and black outlines. The finished picture (bottom right) shows how Lichtenstein altered the cartoon by centering the face and balloon, adding a red helmet and turning the comic strip's question into a joke about his own art.