Friday, May 11, 2012


Sleeping Girl by Roy Lichtenstein

You may have heard about Roy Lichtenstein's painting Sleeping Girl fetching $44.8 million in a Sotheby's auction this week. I always find news about Lichtenstein's art interesting, not only because I am primarily a comic book artist, but also because I have the distinction of being one of the comic book artists that he swiped.

If you've ever taken an art history class (and probably even if you haven't) you most likely know the work of Roy Lichtenstein. He was one of a number of artists who rose to fame during the 60's pop art movement. As his Wikipedia entry says - "Roy Lichtenstein (October 27, 1923 – September 29, 1997) was a prominent American pop artist... his work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style".

Lichtenstein's most famous paintings were based on comic book panels drawn by such giants as Jack Kirby, John Romita Sr., Russ Heath, and many others, almost always without attribution. Though these pieces were not exact copies, they were undeniably based specifically on work that other artists had created. This practice made him a highly controversial figure among the fine art world as well as comic book fandom. Lichtenstein had pretty much given up copying comic book panels by the time the 60s had come to end, though later in his career he did return to the practice somewhat by incorporating comic panels into larger works.

This brings us 1994 and a piece by Lichtenstein called Large Interior With Three Reflections. Lichtenstein used an image from an issue of The Avengers that I drew early in my career and incorporated it into part of the large mural. Let's start with his original preliminary sketch for that portion of the image:

... and here's a detail of the panel from Avengers #358 (January 1993) from which it was taken (penciled by me and inked by Tom Palmer):

Notice that the headpiece does not appear in the sketch. Lichtenstein also made other changes to the source material as he progressed to the drawing stage, most notably the direction of the strands of hair:

Up to this point I think it could have been debatable whether my image was the inspiration for that section of the mural, but in the finished painting the headpiece is back in place, leaving little doubt:

More on the creation of this piece, including the confirmation of my Avengers art as the source material (for that small portion of it) can be found HERE.

This was all brought to my attention originally by David Barsalou, who has an ongoing project identifying the source material for all of Lichtenstein's pieces. The comparison image below is from Barsalou's Flickr photostream.

In school when I was studying Lichtenstein in Art History classes, I could have never dreamed that in a few short years he would actually be swiping some of my art. The whole thing is surreal to me and I'm not even really sure how I feel about it, but I've got to admit that part of me enjoys the notoriety of being able to say I was one of Lichtenstein's "victims". Would I be more outraged if the entire piece consisted of a single panel based on my work (like Sleeping Girl) and he had made millions from it? Probably.

The issue of how Lichtenstein produced his art and the money he made by appropriating the work of other artists without credit or compensation can become complex when looked at from various points of view - or, it can be as simple as black and white. I'll leave it for others to sort out.


Paolo Rivera said...

That's insane! I don't know how I would feel about that either, but overall, that's pretty cool.

Tiziano said...

On the list :-P

Steve Lieber said...

Kind of like being robbed by Dillinger, I guess.

Steve Epting said...

Yes Steve - that's it exactly!

John Siuntres said...

Fred Van Lwnte and I just talked about this on word balloon

Mike D. said... a wannabe cartoonist and a neverwasneverwillbe professional illustrator I'll say this....George Pratt one of my former instructors once said. " It's not swiping if it's used as reference "
Now...that can be interpreted a few different ways... if you use something as reference but change it ever so slightly to fit into a composition in order to make it work...I guess it's reasonable to call it reference.
many artists use photo reference for accuracy and realism...there is no harm in that.
As a professional illustrator ( You Steve ) I believe ( IMHO ) I guess could be considered an honor that this Famous fine artist of great renown used your work as reference.
He did not want a photo...he wanted line art for his reference.
Yours looks better anyhoo. Sorry if I've droned on too long.