11 Pop Artists Roy Lichtenstein
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Pop art sensation Roy Lichtenstein’s celebrated visual style is principally guided by commercial printing techniques and strategies. He first gained worldwide public recognition for appropriating elements abstracted from comic strips. However, most of the themes he explored over the course of his career owed their visual syntax to styles and trends characteristic of fine art and high culture.
Lichtenstein’s growing expertise and mechanised aesthetic was consistent with the technical renaissance of American printmaking. The artist employed his iconic Ben Day dots and other regularised patterns, in order to achieve tone and texture. He applied thick black outlines for the purpose of defining the flat areas he saturated with bold primary colours. Embracing consumer culture, his schematised compositions were widely recognised by mass audiences.
In 1965, businessman Philip Morris sponsored three art portfolios. The commission was christened 11 Pop Artists. Each of the three portfolios contained 11 prints by emerging artists of the Pop Art movement. Morris intended to use the artistic collaboration to expand into new markets and reinforce his brand as part of avant-garde culture.
The project was also meant to promote vital components of American culture, symbolising freedom of expression and capitalism. Therefore, many of the prints featured in the 11 Pop Artists portfolios consist of saturated comic book imagery and serialised advertising. Roy Lichtenstein’s vibrant pop debut appears in all three volumes, signaling his meteoric rise into the realms of Post-War American art.
Lichtenstein experimented with various techniques and media prior to this collaboration. As a result, his creative contributions to the portfolio are regarded as a masterful culmination of the years he spent perfecting his printmaking skills.
Lichtenstein’s 11 Pop Artists prints manifest a democratising visual vocabulary, presenting compelling and accessible images of familiar characters and settings. On the one hand, the artworks confront the viewer with the very essence of Pop; they’re bold, vibrant and dynamic. Additionally, the slick prints also disrupt the traditional artistic legacies of the 19th century by reintroducing discredited imagery and perspectives into contemporary artistic dialogue. There are no obscure meanings in these works to decode. The prints are scaled dramatically, informing the viewer about the precise techniques employed in their making. Although his style may appear mechanical and even clinical, Lichtenstein’s 11 Pop Artist prints tackle emotionally intense scenes.
The graphics use the omnipresence of comic books to their advantage and establish an instant connection with the audience. Bursting with stylised textual as well as illustrative elements, patterns and colours, the prints rely heavily on verbal-visual language. The artist isolates and frames dramatic performances, contrasting the dual nature of words against an action packed illustration.
In his usual manner, Lichtenstein seeks to eliminate the distinction between high and low art in these works. Therefore, he elevates the two opposite tropes to the same level, constituted by the canvas, producing a synchronised composition. Ultimately, he achieves this by adding a level of conceptual complexity to his 11 Pop Artist prints. The works interrogate assumptions about various art forms, be it the status of jazz music, the respective places of fine art and comics, or the difference between genuine craft and mechanical reproduction.
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