Each of Designlab’s UX Academy intakes is named after someone who inspires us. Our March cohort follow in the footsteps of the great twentieth-century pop artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997), famous for his humorous, high-impact paintings that mimicked the forms of contemporary popular culture.
7 Ways That Roy Lichtenstein Inspires Us
He took the popular and commonplace, and transformed it into something iconic and special. Using canvas, and oil paint — the materials of high art — he reproduced the comfortable aesthetic of comic books, newsprint, and advertising graphics. As Artsy puts it, “Lichtenstein brought what was then a great taboo — commercial art — into the gallery.”
He gave his first son the middle name “Hoyt” after his teacher and mentor, Hoyt L. Sherman, who encouraged Lichtenstein’s instinct to challenge received wisdom about both good and bad taste, and high and low art. He also donated funds to endow the Hoyt L. Sherman Studio Art Center at his Alma Mater, Ohio State University, where he completed a Bachelor of Fine Art, as well as a Masters.
His work makes us pay attention to the production processes of art and design. This can be seen in his hand-painted reproductions of oversized Ben-Day dots, which were a common method of mechanical photographic reproduction in print media in the 50s and 60s. This focus on process is also evident in his series of paintings of brushstrokes.
His work was anti-elitist. The Lichtenstein Foundation documents that “even as an undergraduate, Lichtenstein objected to the notion that one set of lines (one person’s drawings) ‘was considered brilliant, and somebody’s else’s, that may have looked better to you, was considered nothing by almost everyone.’” This instinct no doubt led to the humor and subversiveness of his mature work. His influence can also be seen in artists today, such as Grayson Perry, whose work bears witness to the structures of taste and class in visual culture.
His work subverted expectations of art form. For example, in the 60s and 70s he turned to sculpture, a discipline traditionally characterised by solid, stationary forms. But his work portrayed ephemeral phenomena such as curls of steam, rays of light, and reflections on glass.
His favorite painting was Picasso’s mammoth political work Guernica (1937), which protested and lamented the Spanish Civil War.
He was called “one of the worst artists in America” by a New York Times critic, an accusation repeated by LIFE Magazine in 1964. Fifty years later, in 2015, Lichtenstein’s painting “Nurse” sold for over $95 million — one of the most expensive art sales in history, and the highest price achieved by an American pop artist.
For us, Roy Lichtenstein shows how everything “new” in art and design must copy, break down, and repurpose the old. In the words of his contemporary and fellow artistic controversialist Salvador Dalí, “those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing”. We hope that students of the Lichtenstein cohort will also learn from the world of design that surrounds us, and form it into something personal and new.
To find out more about Lichteinstein’s life and work, visit the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation