Lichtenstein left the opportunity to pursue studio courses and a degree in fine arts to serve his country in WW II in 1943. He was trained in programs for languages, engineering, and pilot training but he served as an orderly and a draftsman.
In 1946, he returned back to studies in Ohio under the supervision of one of his teachers, Hoyt L. Sherman. He soon received a Master of Fine Arts degree and became an art instructor at the university.
He had his first solo exhibition at the Carlebach Gallery, New York in 1951. He was slowly gaining popularity in the circuit and moved to Cleveland in the same year where he undertook variety of jobs like working as a draftsman.
In 1958, Lichtenstein started teaching at the State University of New York at Oswego, after oscillating between cubism and Expressionism and finally adopting the Abstract Expressionism style. He started amalgamating cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse into his abstract art.
After he took up role of a teacher at Rutgers University, from 1961-1964, Lichtenstein profusely painted pop paintings, inculcating cartoon characters and household objects into it. His first large-scale work ‘Look Mickey’ was also painted in this period.
During this time, Leo Castelli, an Italian-American art dealer, started showcasing Lichtenstein's work at his gallery in New York. Lichtenstein had his first solo show at the Castelli gallery, during which the entire collection was sold even before the exhibition opened.
Around 1963, he resigned from his position at the Rutgers University to concentrate better on his paintings. ‘Drowning Girl’ was produced during this time, which is Lichtenstein’s most famous work. It is now showcased at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
During this time, he painted ‘Whaam!’ which was displayed at Tate Modern, London. Now Lichtenstein was famous worldwide for the quirky adaptation of comic-book characters and storylines into his paintings.
Around 1964-1965, he started to experiment with art and tried out sculpting to express the abstract creativity that he had been trying to put across with his paintings. ‘Head of Girl’ and ‘Head with Red Shadow’ was created during this time.
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Lichtenstein abandoned his comic-strip style of paining and began his ‘Modern Paintings’ series in 1966. He made over 60 paintings on the theme, using his distinctive Ben-Day dots and geometric shapes and lines.
He created ‘Composition and Leda and the Swan’ in 1969 on the commission by Gunter Sachs’ Pop Art bedroom suite at the Palace Hotel in St. Moritz. Sachs was a German photographer, author, industrialist and an avid art collector.
In 1970, he was appointed by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to make a film, and along with Universal Film Studios Lichtenstein made ‘Three Landscapes’. It was his only artistic collaboration with the medium.
After this, he moved to Southampton, Long Island, and lived in seclusion there. He moved on from his earlier style of painting and started a series of ‘Mirrors’ paintings. He also started to experiment with the subject of entablatures.
In 1978, he got influenced by German Expressionist prints and illustrated books and produced works like: ‘Pow Wow (1979)’, ‘Amerind Landscape (1979)’, ‘The White Tree (1980)’, ‘Dr. Waldmann (1980)’, ‘Amerind Figure (1981)’, etc.
In the late 1970s unitl mid-1980s, Lichtenstein did commissioned work in public places, for which he gained a lot of popularity, like: ‘Lamp (1978)’, ‘Mermaid (1979)’, ‘Brushstrokes in Flight (1984)’, and ‘Mural with Blue Brushstroke (1984-85)’.
Throughout 1980s until 1990s, he worked on ‘Still Life’ paintings, sculptures and drawings which included the most traditional motifs and themes, like fruits, flowers and vases. He also produced ‘Reflection’ series using motifs from his previous work.
In the 1990s, he got inspired from the monochromatic prints of Edgar Degas, the famous French artist, having come across with it at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He produced the ‘Landscapes in the Chinese Style’ during this time.