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Lichtenstein of the Week

As I mentioned last week, Look Mickey (1961) was Lichtenstein’s first Pop painting, but he didn’t even paint it until he was 38 years old and had been exhibiting in New York for nearly a decade. There are many tales as to the impetus of the painting, but the truth of the matter is that Lichtenstein had been ruminating on images like this one for several years. In the late 1950s he had painted a large image of Mickey on the wall of his son Mitchell’s room and he also created a series of paintings (all since destroyed) during this time that featured Mickey, Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny. However, several drawings of these subjects do remain and are featured in the exhibition’s gallery devoted to prints and drawings.

This particular image was adapted from a Little Golden Book called Donald Duck Lost and Found (more on that in a later post). It does retain some of the hallmarks of Lichtenstein’s career, like the use of primary colors and an aesthetic that appears mechanical, but it doesn’t yet include the heavy black outlines and uniform benday dots. Although, if you look closely, you can make out hand-painted dots in Donald’s eyes and Mickey’s face.

The painting wasn’t exhibited until 1982, but was first “shown” to the world in a 1964 Life Magazine article called “Is he the worst artist in the U.S.?” Images inspired by pop culture and advertising might seem normal to us, but to this audience, this merging of high and low art was almost heretical.

Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is open at the Art Institute through September 3.

Image Credit: Roy Lichtenstein. Look Mickey, 1961. © National Gallery of Art. Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein, Gift of the Artist, in Honor of the 50th Anniversary of the National Gallery of Art.