The best history story about Lichtenstein happens in 1957, five years before his ascension to international fame and small fortune. During that fateful year the Lichtensteins bought their first house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. A mini-palace in a land of beautiful houses. Six bedrooms, a few baths. Isabel might have been employed still as assistant interior decorator at Jane L. Hansen, Inc., however, doubtful while shouldering responsibilities of two preschool boys. The younger Mitchell, not yet a year on earth.
Roy never kept a job for more than 6 months during the bulk of the decade, and his new job as engineering draftsman making furniture for the Republic Steel Company was work, but not work that could afford a 1950’s down payment on an upper middle class property.
Was their a recent inheritance? Something to look into.
But the big question is why, in August of the same year, did Roy take a job as assistant professor at Oswego State Teacher’s College 350 miles away from his new home? The family rented an apartment in a duplex at 11 West 6th Street before the start of the Fall semester.
What a year of tumult, for better or worse. Things must have been pretty desperate on some level for such a drastic uprooting. Perhaps frantic. Eight paintings produced during the whole year. Eight paintings that took no time away from a harried move. Rushed work. Lazy work. Stolen hours’ work.
At 34 years old, I believe Roy was settling in for the duration. Baby boys, a wife who had always supported him… He didn’t make this move to “get closer to the NY art scene”. So many historians make the claim in their usual paragraph (maybe two) written on the most significant change in the artist’s life to that point in time. Obviously, none have made the trip to Oswego, nor thought much about being an unknown painter in the American year, 1957.
Everything that happened then created what was to come.
In the painting above, Roy and Isabel appear to be dancing. Both figures are copied from paintings he made in 1952. The house and address take you to the grounded reality of their lives, and no thing at that moment in time had the power to predict a future Elvis Presley fame in an international art world.
Babies need to be fed. Rents and mortgages must get paid. At a starting salary of $6,300/year, Roy was well on his way to surviving barely in a cruel world.
Sometimes I think art historians don’t do art history very well. In 1961, Roy was a family man, raising two little boys. He wasn’t making paintings (copying magazine, newspaper and comic clippings) to emphasize orifices and blow up dolls. The following excerpt is taken from Hall of Mirrors by Graham Bader, assistant professor at Rice University. Great writer, but a bunch of kinky balderdash!
Professor Bader does not have a degree in Subjective Interpretations of Someone Else’s Art, and yet society supplies him an office with a desk and streams of students who pay with their time and money to take their seat beside him. Imagine if Howard Zinn, American history historian, wrote that Robert Kennedy used to dress up as a duck and make love to chicken wire. He had no proof—no recorded interview, not even personal anecdote from enemy Brezhnev’s autobiography. Would MIT Press publish wild speculation? Would Rice University tenure such nonsense?
Here is my subjective interpretation, knowing what I know about the world of 1961. Roy was a year and a half out of Oswego. He was a teacher in New jersey, and his youngest boy a wannabe Mouseketeer. Mouths were not sexual orifices to Roy. Not openly anyway. Not yet. There is no pre-pop evidence that he was a sexual-thinking person. He took his “Girl With Ball” to the Leo Castelli Gallery, and it was the first painting the latter purchased. Maybe Leo thought she had a sexy mouth hole. Roy just copied his girl straight from a Poconos Advertisement in the New York Times. He made the mouth look like the ball, maybe.
Anyway, read for yourself. Good writing can be convincing. Bad writing too. I just wish professor Bader wasn’t awarded a hundred grand a year to help push the hordes of living artists into obscurity holes. We have a lot to say about our work. And we’re alive. And he can trust us,
I paint too fast to accept oils as a medium in my process. Still, no matter how awful and unnecessary, oils have provided a challenge to struggle with. After several months tripping over turpentine, smearing wet paint, covering pigment to mix it more drab, and torturing my muscles from tip to toe, I will have earned my masters in Painting Futility. No one will be able to claim to my understanding that oils are superior to fine acrylics. Where I already practice a weak rendering sensibility, oils just exacerbate the handicap and would force me into a meaningless and vacuous abstraction for the impossibility to render and color an eye without resting the hand on the canvas, and smearing the hand, and wiping the hand on the shirt, over the eye, in the mouth, cursing once, twice and finally kicking over the turpentine with my clumsy reaction.
If the hole needs to be dug today, (and I always dig my holes in a day), then I shall use a shovel (acrylics), instead of a dinner fork (oils).
The following painting was done in acrylics in 2017 with a different toy subject. To me the differences are night and day. I am not fooling anyone with oil. After the Lichtenstein exhibition I will take my degree and paint over it in acrylics.
I have made a request to the SUNY Oswego powers that be for wall space anywhere on old campus where Roy might have passed en route to class or glass of milk in the student union.
I am 152 hours of labor into the project, yet only a quarter of the way to its finish. This is a good time to post several pieces of my grant proposal, so those interested in acquiring funds can see for themselves that any boob is capable.
Feel free to copy for yourselves. Just change out the names, and see where it can take you. I estimate a wage of $.17/hour.
The world wants artists to shut up and work retail for millionaires.
A long-established writer, Ron Throop relatively recently began exhibiting his paintings. They are direct visual counterparts to his writings that ask us to reconsider mankind’s current wayward course, and simultaneously promote the simple pleasure found in creativity, nature, family and friends. With color, straightforward drawing and scrawled inscriptions, Throop’s style initially suggests the work of a naïve artist detached from mainstream 21st century concerns. Upon further consideration, we discover they offer no quaint story or escapist pleasure. As in a children’s story, both the people and animals of the land communicate their complex thoughts which are of the utmost seriousness.
Briefly explain how you estimated/calculated these numbers:
I am an avid promoter of Stuckist painters and have ample outreach through social media and community contacts. I shall create a blog documenting my process with original paintings, articles, and inspired essays. I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my website to interact with the public on social media. Since this project involves a history of a famous artist who taught at SUNY Oswego, I intend to involve the college to the best of my ability. I have worked with M., director of Tyler Art Galley, on a previous project and hope to garner his expertise through advice and direction. Likewise, I shall seek direction from the Oswego County Historical Society and Special Collections of SUNY Oswego to fashion a 1950’s, early 1960’s backdrop to the Lichtenstein story. I hope to liason with ARTSwego and the Art Association of Oswego in some manner to help with outreach to the community. Finally, the published book will reach audiences of the present and future, as I will seek circulation in SUNY Oswego Penfield Library and local retail outlets.
I actually believe these numbers to be rather conservative estimates. With success, it could attract many more, but no less.
This is a creative local art history project to add color and pride to a region limited in art scope. I shall complete 25 or more original oil paintings inspired by a late 1950’s and early 1960’s Oswego that Lichtenstein might have experienced—thoughts on a lakeside walk, sights while driving throughout the town and countryside, or taking the family out for a movie downtown. I will show these paintings in the autumn in either Tyler or Park Hall/Wilbur Hall on the SUNY Campus. Preferably the latter. Few know that Lichtenstein was hired by SUNY Oswego to teach Industrial Design, not painting. Park Hall is the Industrial Arts building where he would have taught his classes in the late 1950’s.
I will conduct ample research and compile my illustrations and essays in a book specifically for this show, and donate all profits from sales to a chosen SUNY Oswego college scholarship fund that helps fund Oswego County applicants.
While painting and conducting research I will maintain a blog with social media connection to specific Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.
Lichtenstein taught Industrial Design at Oswego from 1958 to 1960, and although his tenure was brief, there is a wealth of historical fact and fiction that can be expressed, through both visual art and historical research. My next door neighbor Helen, age 89, knew the Lichtensteins, and related a story to me that Isabel Lichtenstein (Roy’s wife), once caused a stir at the Oswego faculty wives’ dinner when she came dressed in red stockings!
Well, as any painter or writer will tell you, that is a story that needs to be told!
Word has it that Roy and family rented a house on West Sixth Street Street in the city of Oswego, and while living here and teaching at the college, he changed his style of painting from figurative to abstract, where he would apply broad swaths of color onto the canvas, wrap a rag around his arm, and drag it to get the desired results. He was also sketching comics during this time, so a feel of this style would be most appropriate for new work that I introduce.
I paint with acrylics on any substrate I feel most suitable. For this body of work I think I would like to mirror Lichtenstein’s choices—closer to the bone, the better. For instance, if Roy painted on canvas, I would seek mid-twentieth century linens, canvas, sheets, etc. and stretch them as Lichtenstein would have. Likewise, and this truly would be a monumental change for me—Like Roy, I would use oils, a medium I have little to no experience with, which will make me feel how Lichtenstein must have felt between artistic realizations. That is, to say the least, uneasy.
While painting and researching Lichtenstein’s life in Oswego, I will connect to the public via a professionally designed blog with links to social media such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I will contact the Lichtenstein Foundation to seek reference and consul, and as mentioned before, work with college and community art and historical interests to learn and also promote the exhibition and book.
Finally, the book will be a work of original art in itself—the story of Roy Lichtenstein in Oswego, and the color added to it with my original paintings commemorating his experience and mine.
Since I will display the work in a prominent building at the college, preferably in a busy thoroughfare, I would suspect the primary audience for the duration of the exhibition to be students, faculty, administration and staff of the college. However, an opening will welcome and push for a large community attendance, especially seniors who will benefit from the memory of an Oswego many share together. I would spend time promoting the event to administrators and residents of local senior housing, but also middle and high school art and industrial arts teachers, with hopes that their interest is sparked and students are encouraged to attend. For a time, Oswego housed and fed a future world renown painter. What a positive story for local youth to see that greatness can be achieved, or at least nourished, in underrepresented geographic locations! Again, connection with the Oswego Historical Society, ARTswego, the Art Association of Oswego, Tyler Art Gallery, etc. will boost an interest outside my reach and hopefully encourage even more to attend. The book, of course, will provide historical documentation, and be accessible for future interest.
Why do this for the community?
It’s just a great local art story that needs to be told.
I am excited about meeting with the Oswego Historical Society, Special Collections at SUNY Oswego, and the several art institutions previously mentioned. Local history is a prime interest here among many, (as I’m sure it is everywhere where people feel deeply connected to a region). Roy Lichtensteins’s Oswego story is good local history, and an artistic embellishment will add a modern, living component that is not often achievable with historic storytelling. I am, as Lichtenstein was for several years during his life, a struggling artist with connections to both the city and college at Oswego. I graduated from the college, yet unlike Roy, made Oswego my permanent residence. A good comparison might be a local resident and wealthy social activist recounting a time in the life of Gerrit Smith, a prominent landowner/businessperson and committed reformer of the mid 19th century.
Also, I intend to interview several living persons who at best know the story of Lichtenstein, or at least are very knowledgeable about Oswego during Roy’s tenure here. For instance, my neighbor Helen may know others who were friends with the Lichtensteins, and can liason an interview(s) for me. I am curious to discover what the local historical society might know, and also Special Collections at SUNY Oswego. I will connect with M., the Director of the Tyler Art Gallery at SUNY who oversees the entire art archive of the college, to find out what he knows about Lichtenstein’s only public exhibition in Oswego—a group faculty show at the college in 1958.
Roy lived at two residences in Oswego. He once hosted art students to display their work in his house on West Sixth Street. I often show the work of other painters in my house. Roy didn’t know it at the time, but he was a burgeoning Stuckist painter, however, the movement hadn’t been invented yet!
My own friends and acquaintances who attend regular home shows, will share their experience and perhaps expand this exhibition’s audience. I’m friends with firemen, administrators, retirees, bankers, professors, air conditioning repairmen, as well as visual artists and musicians. I have no one social circle. Art doesn’t allow for it.
Once again, I will document this process with blog and social media to culminate in a 5 week long exhibition of original paintings and published book.
Outreach and promotion:
Immediately after notification of grant in January, I will purchase a blog with domain name “Lichtenstein in Oswego, 1957 – 1960”, and site specific accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Then I will get to work, posting regularly paintings and process, but also accounts (visual and written) of trips locally where I shall document the ongoing historical research, and discoveries about Oswego in the 1950’s and 60’s, with particular emphasis on Roy Lichtenstein and his connections with the people and places of the time period.
Toward end of research, book creation and completed paintings, I shall begin marketing and advertising the project and exhibition. I will create and send a press release to Oswego County news organizations and pray for free press. I will use some grant funding on postcard and poster promotion, and much of my time networking on social media and taking time to visit elder care facilities, educators, and art historians to pitch the opening event and ensuing exhibition.
January—Purchase and set up blog and social media accounts. Purchase oil paints, gather (sometimes purchase) unique, age-appropriate substrate, and begin painting.
Design and create template for book to be published print-on-demand, and profits to be donated to a SUNY Oswego scholarship fund for Oswego County High School students.
Begin research on Roy Lichtenstein, read biographies, use resources online, set up future meetings with Oswego Historical Society, Special Collections at SUNY Oswego, etc, and form a narrative for book while posting progress online in aforementioned sites.
Write/call the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation in New York City to inquire about photo rights and reproductions. Also get the know on what they know about Roy in Oswego. January – March—Schedule meeting(s) with heads of art and industrial arts departments to inquire and acquire wall space for exhibition. Set exact dates for the exhibition and its opening. January – August—Continue painting, compiling research, setting narrative and typesetting book with prose and several illustrations.
By end of August complete book and send to publisher. August – September—Have artwork ready to hang and begin implementing marketing/advertising plan.
Send out press release to local news organizations.
Create and print postcards and 11 x 17″ posters to distribute throughout Oswego County.
Connect with elder care facilities, research and art institutions, librarians, teachers city leaders and politicians, SUNY Oswego community, SUNY alumni, overall begin the invitation process to all and sundry.
Qualifications and experience:
I have been a full time practicing fine art painter and writer for over 20 years, and have exhibited for 10 years. I have written and self-published 16 books with subjects on art, society, culture, politics and self-liberation. I am proficient in book design, proofreading and typesetting, with knowledge of the self-publishing industry.
I have a heightened sense of work ethic. Since 2016, I have curated three international group exhibitions, and two international solo exhibitions, as well as several of my own. The first of the former I hosted the work of 4 Russian painters and myself and exhibited to the Oswego community in a truly inspirational endeavor (thank you CNYArts!). The second group show was more daunting with work sent from 37 Stuckist painters around the world which I exhibited at beautiful Quintus Gallery in Watkins Glen. Both huge successes, and literally life-changing. The third was an international show representing 12 artists exhibited in my home. Last year I curated the work of Spanish painter, Lupo Sol, exhibited in Hamilton, N.Y. Presently I am curating the work of Lena Ulanova, a Saint Petersburg, Russian painter. I took one of her paintings to New York City and filmed it outside of famous museums and art galleries while asking random people to pose with the piece. These recent exhibitions, as well as several solo shows of my own, have been at my expense, except for the first mentioned. I feel a strong communion with other artists and am glad to help.
Since the project is multidisciplinary I will provide recent work that pays homage to other painters, or provides an example of a non-traditional substrate. For example, the first image will be of painters I promoted in 2016, Alexey Stepanov and Andrew Makarov. I try to capture the unique cultural differences and similarities shared internationally by all artists while they await a train to take them and their paintings to Saint Petersburg. Included will be images of a baby seal and one of a parakeet to provide examples of using substrate to build a concept: a bed sheet and parakeet cover respectively. Also a sample of writing from a book I published for an international exhibition. Lastly, a promotional video (one of 4) I made while curating “Yellow Life Scenes” by Lupo Sol. I wrote and performed the original song. Widely shared across social media.
Please note, the work for this exhibition will be entirely new. Remember, I have never painted with oils! Also, the book will be vibrant, alive and colorful with history and rich illustration. Impossible to replicate for panel with these limitations of past work, however imagine paintings in a similar style to Lichtenstein during this period of internal peace and tumult. History tends to distort the day to day life of any past person, especially the celebrity type. I intend to include the mundane of a painter’s world, expressed in paint and in prose.
Although I will use the bulk of the grant to pay for my time, I will also use funds for oil paints, custom substrate, blog creation and promotional marketing costs. As is probably very common among past awardees, the $2,500 is a huge benefit to any artistic labor of love that sees a majority of time invested pro bono. Basically I see no need to secure additional funding. I plan to donate my time to the project.
…and no one escapes having to live life under duress
—Van Morrison, from “The Meaning of Loneliness”
The Lichtensteins moved to Oswego in late summer, 1957. Earlier in the year Roy and Isabel bought their first house in Cleveland, Ohio, which, in 1957 terms, meant a rest-of-life scenario along the Lake Erie shoreline. The couple had two little boys, David, born in October, 1954, and Mitchell, celebrating his first year in March, 1957. The several biographies I have read by art historians claim Roy took the job in Oswego to position himself “closer to the New York City art market”. Today it takes about seven hours to drive from Cleveland to New York, and five hours from Oswego. Certainly in the 1950’s both roads made the drive longer, but I would guess the Cleveland to New York latitude was more friendly to motorists while Eisenhower and GM’s monstrous interstate system was still in its planning stages.
Closer to the art market?
Hmm. No jobs available in Lancaster, Allentown, or Wilke-Barre, Pennsylvania? And hour’s drive to Manhattan would seem more practical on every level.
So why leave many years of social acclimation and a purchased house in Cleveland to move a young family to Oswego, NY?
Dr. Aulus Sanders, the Chairman of the Art Department in 1957, who”plucked” Roy out of Cleveland, said that there were many applications for the opening to teach industrial design. He felt he had a special knack at sifting past those who looked good on paper, but would not rise to the occasion. Not Roy. He had prestige, enough talent, Manhattan accolades, but most importantly, Roy was 34 years old with a wife and family. Middle-aged and so ready to settle down, Dr. Aulus might have marked Roy’s application as a sound investment for the college. Perhaps it was Roy’s recently acquired job making furniture at the Republic Steel Company which made him think twice about a full-time painting career, prompting him to send his resume to higher ed institutions throughout the northeast. If he could secure a position teaching, then he could spend a lifetime practicing the art he loved in an atmosphere of encouragement rather than struggle.
Furthermore, he might have been between jobs when he sent his resume to Oswego. In quiet desperation, he could have left Isabel out of this decision, fearing she would be dead set against starting over in a small city far, far away. He would just wait and see if any offers came back, and then break the news to her.
History is chock full of stories that have little base in actual history. Still, using even rudimentary knowledge of the culture and human condition during the mid-20th century, it suffices to suggest that Roy was stubborn, but not crazy stubborn. There wasn’t a middle-aged family man in Cleveland not privately terrified of losing the ability to support a family. Roy’s ambition was very real. A few New York exhibitions under his belt, an unwavering philosophy on art and artist, and a highly naive, perhaps delusional, dream of “making it big”. This was the hope constantly wrestling with financial reality. He was a failure as a reliable breadwinner. That pressure in 1957 superseded any pressures demanded through the practicing of a private art. Roy was in struggle. Life-changing struggle.
So far in my limited reading, I believe the biographers get it wrong. Art historians are wont to fall into the trap of the hindsight “art for art sake” mindset. Roy had a wife and two little boys. Isabel had a husband and two little boys. Ends would have to meet and marriage survival was contingent on money making—at least enough to conform to illusions set in the middle class, Caucasian society of the time period.
No matter what Roy claimed in future VIP interviews, he sure as heck didn’t accept the job in Oswego to “get closer to the New York art market”. The assistant professor’s position paid between $5,570 and $7,250. It was a dream job for any misfit artist, scholar, or mathematician in need of conformity fast. To hold one’s head up high, bringing home the bacon, and partaking in an acceptable and steady occupation, frees the academic on many levels, including the time necessary to practice a joy.
Surely at the time, Roy still dreamed big. 34 wasn’t the end of the world. Being employed as a college professor in Oswego would open more New York gallery doors than furniture maker in Cleveland. Perhaps it might be wiser for future art historians to interpret past allusions to Roy’s ambition incorporating into the narrative more sociology, rather than blind faith in what a millionaire or a millionaire’s friend had to say in a celebrity interview.
Start with this premise: Roy Lichtenstein did not come to Oswego to get closer to the New York art market. He came to Oswego to settle down and get closer to his art.
And to support a family so a social and political world would leave him the hell alone.
In an interview in late life Roy pondered the irony of painting commodities and then becoming a commodity himself. Christies® sells commodities to cure the ennui of the lowest cast of humanity (billionaires). Giraffes are too stupid to realize this, and then they get mauled and eaten by hyenas.