In a city filled to the brim with galleries, museums, artists’ studios, and, of course, avid art lovers, we’ve all undoubtedly walked by a display of Pop Art at some point. From sidewalk tables of Warhol-esque souvenirs, to t-shirts and tote bags featuring iconic pieces, and even to public works, the over-60-year-old movement is still all around us. Today we celebrate the life and work of Roy Lichtenstein, one of the pioneers of Pop, who was born on October 27, 1923, and passed away on September 29, 1997.
Although raised on the Upper West Side, Lichtenstein would become one of the countless artists who called the Village home. Having had studios at 36 West 26th Street and 190 Bowery during the peak years of his career, he set up shop (and residence) at 745 Washington Street in 1988, and remained there until his death in 1997. This building falls within the C6-1 area of the Far West Village, which in fall 2010 GVSHP successfully fought to rezone. Originally an ironworks foundry built in 1912, its industrial past and aesthetic certainly seem fitting for an artist’s space. The artist’s wife, Dorothy, still lives in the space, which was renovated about ten years ago to include a glorious rooftop sculpture garden.
Coming out of the age when Abstract Expressionism (more on that in next week’s Off the Grid…) reigned supreme, the mid- to late-1950s saw a return to representational art with an eye toward popular culture and an often tongue-in-cheek attitude. Lichtenstein rose to fame in the early 1960s with his signature comic book paintings, in which he appropriated the Benday dots, dramatic thought bubbles, and hard-edged renderings of comics and advertisements. Focusing on techniques and subject matter from what was regarded as low-culture, commercial entertainment, he – like his contemporaries – challenged traditional definitions and understandings of fine art or “high art”. His style was brand new and one-of-a-kind, elevating him to star status in New York and around the world. The works of Lichtenstein are like no other; iconic and inimitable.
Lichtenstein’s extensive portfolio included much more than just his comic book paintings, turning to art historical references and Benday dot-filled interiors later in his career, but the works that dubbed him an instigator of Pop remain his trademark. One of the innumerable forward-thinking, splash-making characters of the 20th century, it’s no wonder he worked, lived, and left his indelible mark in the Village.