The Fantabulous 50s Weekend, Part 6: Lichtenstein Pre-Pop

Washington Crossing the Delaware II

Washington Crossing the Delaware II, 1951.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a short-term road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

I’ve just now lived to see 50, and after weeks of research and indecision, we planned an overnight journey to the next state over, to the capital city of Columbus, Ohio, which had cool stuff that this now-fiftysomething geek wanted to see. Columbus, then, would be the setting for our first outing together as quintagenarians…

As a comics fan I think I’m supposed to loathe Roy Lichtenstein and his Pop Art appropriations of single panels from the hard labors of countless underpaid artists from years past. I generally get the anger of an artistic fandom predisposed to condemn any product that reeks of unaffectionate tracing and/or outright theft. (Hence some especially vehement online condemnations of self-styled “NFT artists”.) On the other hand, I’m also a lifelong lover of parody and satire, of deconstruction and deflating pretensions. On that level Pop Art has always fascinated me, from Warhol to Lichtenstein to Rauschenberg and beyond. Their often passively-aggressively snide answers to the question, “What is Art?” are fair game both for criticism and as criticism.

As it happens, my birthday weekend had a gift waiting for me: a special exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art called “Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making 1948-1960”. Lichtenstein was born in Manhattan but earned his degrees at Ohio State University in Columbus (with a three-year intermission for WWII homefront service) and consequently counts as a hometown hero. He moved on to teaching elsewhere while taking steps into the art world, leaving representational figures quickly behind as he entered a phase of dabbling in Cubism and Surrealism as means to interrogate, deconstruct, or merely spoof well-known images of his time, haughty American history, or random pictures that caught his eye in Life Magazine. His fame/infamy would be later claimed in the Pop Art movement; in contrast, the CMA’s exhibit collected works showing his earlier evolution…or, if you can’t stand his work, his villain origin.

The following samples are presented in approximate chronological order. Some subjects are recognizable; some are more distorted than others. As he’d remark later in life and would be quoted on one of the museum labels, “The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire.”

Paul Bunyan!

Paul Bunyan, circa 1940-42.

The Cannon!

The Cannon, 1948.


Diver, 1948-49.

The Philosophers!

The Philosophers, 1949.

Man on a Lion!

Man on a Lion, 1950.

Storming the Castle!

Storming the Castle, 1950.

Emigrant Train After William Ranney!

Emigrant Train After William Ranney, 1951. One of the Life homages.

Death of the General!

Death of the General, 1951. Loosely inspired by Benjamin West’s 1770 The Death of General Wolfe.


The Explorer, 1952. Another Life find, this one based on a 19th-century ad for Libby corned beef.

Hells Angels!

Hell’s Angels, 1953, most likely named after the 1930 Jean Harlow film.

Two Indians!

Two Indians, 1953, condemned by its own contextual label. (“This Eurocentric perspective promoted an association of Native Americans with the past, rather than with a contemporary living reality.”)

Captain Stephen Decatur!

Captain Stephen Decatur, 1954. An instrumental contributor in the establishment of the U.S. Navy.

Motion Picture Projector!

Motion Picture Projector, 1954.

Shaper Feed Mechanism!

Shaper Feed Mechanism, 1954.

Ten Dollar Bill (Ten Dollars)!

Ten Dollar Bill (Ten Dollars), 1956.

Charge of the Light Brigade!

The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1956, the same year that the novel’s 1936 film adaptation came to TV.

Gallant Scene II!

Gallant Scene II, 1957.

Mickey Mouse III!

Mickey Mouse III, 1958.

Bugs Bunny!

Bugs Bunny, also 1958. Put these last two together for a Who Framed Roger Rabbit? prequel.

And then came his Pop Art phase, the Ben Day dots, the swiping of comics panels, the “What is art?” debates, and so on. The CMA’s permanent collection contained one contrasting piece of more recent vintage. In his later years his works tended to offer compromise between the phases — abstraction rendered in old-school comics stylings and filtered through a swingin’ ’60s vibe.

Art Critic!

Art Critic, 1996, the year before his death.

To be continued! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:

Part 1: The Merry Marvel Museum Menagerie
Part 2: Mighty Marvel Cinemania
Part 3: How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
Part 4: COSI All Around
Part 5: Schiller Park Intermezzo
Part 7: All Around the CMA
Part 8: The Columbus Cuisine Collection
Part 9: Arts in Columbus
Part 10: Sir, This is a Wendy’s
Coda: Happy Birthday, Captain Janeway

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