About the project

Roy Lichtenstein. More Than Dots.
Organised by: He Art Museum.
Co-organised: Aurea Cultura i Art, Comediarting and Rumor Artworks.
Curator: María Dolores Durán Úcar.

Roy Lichtenstein (New York, 1923-1997) was one of the central figures of American pop art, creator of a visual language of his own originating in the culture of the comic.

Notable among his youthful enthusiasms were radio programmes like Flash Gordon or Mandrake the Magician; and jazz¾he set up a group in the years he was at Benjamin Franklin High School. Lichtenstein studied Fine Art at the University of Ohio, graduating in 1946.

After a period of abstract expressionism and another experimenting with constructivism, in the early sixties he decided to break with these precepts and turned his attention to everyday life, in a cultural setting dominated by consumer society.

From then on, his work was characterised by its appropriation of images from the fields of illustration and advertising, adapting the aesthetic of the comic strip to canvas. In terms of technique, he used a palette of primary colours and outline shapes with thick black lines. Another of his peculiarities is his use of Ben-Day dots, a process in which he combines small, coloured dots to create new visual illusions and textures. Initially, to use this technique he made the dots using holes in aluminium sheets, but later refined his method by acquiring the Ben-Day overlay sheets used in graphic design, which enabled him to create much more uniform patterns.

Beneath an apparent superficiality, his creations conceal a profound conceptual approach to the role of the artist and their creations in the post-industrial world.

In 1962 he exhibited at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. Soon after that he began to work on the two themes that were to make him famous: war and love. To explore these dramatic stories he based himself on comics like All-American Men of War or Girls’ Romances. These stories were packed with clichés about gender roles, which were habitual even in film.

Another of his recurring themes is combat. Lichtenstein spent his childhood drawing and making models of aeroplanes. Also, in his youth he was recruited and sent to Europe, specifically to France, Belgium and Germany, to fight Nazism in the Second World War. Among his works on war it is very common to find aeroplanes, often in dogfights, as in the case of his famous Whaam! or in the series As I Opened Fire.

From 1964 onwards he began to create peaceful, empty landscapes, far from his works on love and war, though some of them retain the occasional nod to comic aesthetics. These landscapes often have a horizontal line at the bottom, representing the limit between the sky and the sea, also marked by lines of clouds. In the centre of the composition in Sunrise there is also a half-hidden sun from which numerous rays radiate out. However, in other works on this theme, emptiness and abstraction predominate. This absence of theme led Lichtenstein to experiment with optical effects and materials.

On occasions Lichtenstein’s works have been considered parodies of the abstract expressionism that dominated the art scene in the 1950s in the USA, with artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. But unlike them, Lichtenstein believed that brushstrokes had to be something controlled, not spontaneous. His work Brushstroke in 1965 represents just this, a big brushstroke, an expansive gesture that is in fact just the opposite, as it is realised in a mechanical, dispassionate way. The irony of this idea lies in the fact that rather than using a technique to draw it mechanically, he decided to do it by hand. In Lichtenstein’s work, the Brushstrokes series represents a reflection on the true essence of painting.

Alongside his work based on contemporary culture, Lichtenstein took inspiration from the history of art. Whether as a source of inspiration or appropriation, the artist produced works related to post-impressionism, cubism, futurism and surrealism. In his works he creates a dialogue with the masters of the past, always based on his admiration for these artists who came before him: Claude Monet, Fernand Léger, Piet Mondrian, Vincent van Gogh and, in particular, Pablo Picasso, who he considered one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, as well as his principal artistic influence.

To conclude, this exhibition takes an exhaustive tour of these iconic themes in Roy Lichtenstein’s work without forgetting¾in other separate areas¾his early work, his inspiration in classical architecture, his relationship with film, music and theatre, and his work with other contemporary pop artists.

The exhibition covers all Lichtenstein’s creative themes and periods, from his earliest work at the beginning of the 1960s through to pieces created two years before his death.

The artist died unexpectedly in 1997, at the age of 73. His artistic and documentary legacy is conserved at the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, set up in New York in 1998.

More information
  • From 03 December 2021 to 03 April 2022
  • Roy Lichtenstein
  • He Art Museum. Guangdong – China
Image gallery