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Roy Lichtenstein: Diagram of an Artist

This video brought to you by Tate.org.uk

Go deeper into Roy Lichtenstein's life and work. Renowned for his works based on comic strips and advertising imagery, coloured with his signature hand-painted Ben-Day dots, Lichtenstein is a paragon of pop art. Through archival footage of Lichtenstein at home and at work in his studio, as well as interviews with his wife Dorothy and friend Frederic Tuten, take a look beyond the surface of his comic book imagery to the witty and thoughtful practice behind it.

What do you see when you look at a Roy Lichtenstein painting?
Created by Tate.

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Video transcript

The diagram is maybe a good word for the way I represent other artists That may be true of cartooning That it tends to be a diagram of a person It seems to depict by outlining delineating in a simple way what a subject is <The studio was his favourite place It was the idea that he could actually come down and play Sometimes he just liked to come down and even clean his paintbrushes And look around at the work he was doing at that time Roy kept a pretty regular schedule He was usually in the studio by 10 had the same thing for breakfast single morning Broke for lunch Came back and worked It wasn't like: ' I have to go to work today, God I have to paint today' Nothing It was his joy, it was his pleasure It was everything Sometimes I'd go to the studio in Southhamptom And he'd be alone in the studio I'd sit in a little chair and watch him work And I thought I'd be distracting. No. I'd watch him work He was just focused Nothing could distract him He never really dreamed that he would be able to support himself Through just painting That was something that made him truly happy <So the question of the hour is: How are you going to work in Rome? I'm going to do some drawing and thinking and mostly eating I think [laughs] <He was exactly, the first day I met him, to the day I never saw him again the same way Easy-going, charming, He wasn't judgemental < I was working at the Bianchini Gallery in New York and we and exhibition called: 'The Great American Supermarket' And thought: wouldn't it be great if instead of a regular poster, we could get Roy Lichtenstein and Andrew Warhol To put an image on a shopping bag They both agreed and I met Roy in 1964 when he came in to sign the shopping bags < Well it was 64, so he was pretty well known He was an internationally known artist There was still great controversy It was in the air 'Is Pop Art serious? Is it this? 'Is it Art? All that stuff was still up there A lot of people were upset about it The Abstract Expressionists must have felt pretty upset because they saw their whole anguish of the world vanish in this ironic and witty and beautifully done work < What I did in these early paintings was frightening to me really It seemed to go counter to a sense of taste I had developed along with I hope a sense of art Except I knew it had meaning and I knew vey shortly that it had more meaning then the things I had done before But, because it was so different it was really frightening < He as not a fan of comics It was the nature of the cartoon it just seemed as far away from an artistic image as you can get and to try and transform that into a formal painting really appealed to him He also found it impossible to go back to doing what he had been doing I must say, he never quite managed to get the tormented look in those paintings He wasn't the tortured artist He used to joke and say he was going to take curmudgeon lessons [laughs] When Roy was in Ohio State he had an art professor, Hoyt Sherman who was a huge influence on him Talked all about ways of seeing and perception He had methods of teaching where he flashed slides in a dark room really quickly and had people sketch them so that they could get the Holmes or Gestalt of the work That really had a major impact on Roy < When I turn the work upside down it's to obliterate the subject or to resense it Think of it more as pure mark then you can subject You can see it clearly if you look at it through a mirror because it reverses everything and anything you don't want if doubly off because it's the other way around It's almost the same as coming back two weeks later and looking at it and you see what is off then Art is about something that is entirely different from what my original sources were and I like the contradiction I think people mistake the character of line for the character of art But it is really the position of the line that is important or the position of anything, any contrast not the character of it Anything that was kind of high flung always amused him and And he himself just had a natural humility really < I paint the pictures and he sells them as that. What could be better It's pretty simple I try to be a little more complicated But not too much. I would say that there are several kinds of relationships that can exist between a dealer and a painter The best one is the one of friendship and that's what my relationship is to Lichtenstein That's true < Leo Castelli was his dealer for his entire life from 1961 until his death They trusted each other completed They never had a contract As Roy started to become more successful and better known He used to joke and say someone is going to be tapping him and say: 'Mr. Lichtenstein, it's time for your pills' And he would be in a wheelchair and with his hat cockeyed on his head and he would still be living in Oswego in New York snowed in and this will all have been a dream