Gary Lichtenstein has collaborated with over ninety artists during the course of his 45 year career.
Legendary rock & roll poster artist Bob Fried was one of Lichtenstein’s earliest influences and also one of his greatest. A pioneer of silkscreen production, Fried was among the first to use the medium to produce original works of art; his psychedelic, 1960s poster art was embraced by rock bands such as Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Santana, Genesis and Steppenwolf. By the time he met Lichtenstein, Fried had moved away from the rock art genre and was focused exclusively on the creation of original silkscreen prints and sculpture. Together, Fried and Lichtenstein dove into what was, at the time, relatively new territory: embracing the unique method of painting through silk – effectively taking an image apart and putting it back together again, screen by screen, color by color, layer by layer. During their 2 1⁄2 year collaboration, the artists produced original artwork that would grace the highly anticipated Baha Exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1975. Fried’s untimely death, however, two days before the opening of the exhibition, took the San Francisco art world by surprise. It also inspired the launch, three years later, of SOMA Fine Art, Lichtenstein’s first entrepreneurial venture.
In the summer of 1976, Gary Lichtenstein headed to southern Mexico to research and study Mayan art as part of the MFA program at Antioch College. It was an esoteric departure from the commercial world of art, albeit a temporary one, and after a three-month exploration, he flew back to San Francisco from Guatemala. Lichtenstein returned to the studio of Bob Fried where, in addition to documenting Fried’s entire portfolio, he embarked on the production of a series of screen prints that celebrated his experience in Central America. Perhaps more significantly, it was during this period that Lichtenstein began to paint.
Lichtenstein's paintings demonstrate true abstract expressionism via his spectacular use of color. His paintings, more than 200 oil-based works to date, exhibit mastery of the properties of light absorption and reflection, specifically with regard to the visual impact of color. Inspired by artists such as Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler, Lichtenstein creates canvases which have frequently been described as ethereal, and he has been praised as one who manages to capture a “sense of no-self...” In fact, the composition of Lichtenstein’s work has been referred to as atmospheric... “evocative of natural forms and phenomena.”
Lichtenstein was dedicated to the medium of screen printing and committed to the idea of artistic collaboration. As a result, downtown San Francisco-based SOMA Fine Art was founded in 1978 in order to provide artists with an environment where true, synergistic partnerships would be both cultivated and encouraged to flourish. Early collaborators included Robert Moon, Gage Taylor, and Richard Lowenberg. Simultaneously, public interest in the work of artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein was helping to define and drive the market for screen prints; and so, by the early 1980s, SOMA Fine Art had amassed an extensive roster of artists that included Karl Benjamin, Ken Price, Jack Michelene, and John Visser. The growth of the American marketplace promoted the development of international markets, too, providing SOMA Fine Art (and Lichtenstein, specifically) with groundbreaking collaborative opportunities in Taiwan, Beijing and Tokyo, involving artists such as Ting Shao Kuang, Hwang Ming-Che, and Yu Yu Yang. Working in Asia was a career-defining experience in its own right for Lichtenstein, notably marked by Ting Shao Kuang’s reentry into China’s prodigious art world after a self-imposed ten-year exile. The legacy of the historic collaboration between Ting and Lichtenstein was formally recognized in the public and educational sectors of Beijing and celebrated in 1992 at an honorary exhibition at the Museum of Art & Science in Tiennamen Square.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, Lichtenstein maintained an independent painting studio – first on Shipley Street and then, post earthquake (1989), on 3rd Street in San Francisco. His ability to work independently of, and sometimes in parallel with, other recognized artistic talents resulted in collaboration of the richest kind and the exhibition, Reflections, at the University of California was one example. Lichtenstein and Yang met at the 1994 New Trends exhibition in Hong Kong and realized immediately that despite any physical artistic dissimilarities, the work of both painter and sculptor conveyed similar themes, aesthetically and spiritually. The two artists brought a compelling global mix of experience and influence to the shared work that comprised Reflections and the exhibition, which opened during the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, was heralded as a “symbolic bridging between East and West.”
In 1999, after residing in San Francisco for 30 years, Gary Lichtenstein decided it was time for new surroundings; and in 2000 he headed back to the East Coast. Located in Ridgefield, CT, Gary Lichtenstein Editions was perhaps the antithesis of SOMA Fine Art -- a barn perched on top of a mountain with sweeping views to the east and west. Although GLE was a studio well removed from urban centers of art production, Lichtenstein didn’t fail to attract a series of creative visionaries including Roz Chast, Michael de Feo, Irwin Hasen, Gerard Hemsworth, Charles Hinman, Richard Meier, Gary Panter and Jessica Stockholder. In 2010, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum unveiled Gary Lichtenstein: 35 Years of Screenprinting: a sweeping exhibition of works produced by Lichtenstein over the course of his career. Highlights included Robert Indiana’s HOPE Cross and Alex Katz’s, The Raft.
In 2013, seeking closer proximity to NYC, Gary Lichtenstein Editions moved to MANA Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ. A huge contemporary arts facility, Mana Contemporary is also home to, among others, Juxtapoz Projects, The Florence Academy of Art, the ICP Archive, the Eileen Kaminsky Family Foundation and the Richard Meier Model Museum.
Despite, and because of, rich historical influences, Gary Lichtenstein’s vision and artistic intellect are uniquely his own and clearly evident throughout the enormous portfolio of work that spans his 40-year career. Lichtenstein’s work has been shown and collected by, among others, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, the San Francisco Art Institute, the San Francisco International Art Expo, the Chicago Art Institute, the Butler Institute of American Art, the College of Art & Architecture at the University of Tennessee, the Silvermine Arts Center, the International Print Center NYC, the Boston World Art Fair, the New York International Exhibit of Contemporary Art, and Art Asia (Hong Kong). Solo exhibitions in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have been celebrated at the Rubicon Gallery, Susan Todd Gallery, Galerie Enatsu, and the Modernism Gallery. The Fried screen print collection can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Whitney Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.
Most recently, in July of 2023, Gary Lichtenstein moved his studio to the Berkshires in order to be a part of MASS MoCA. The campus of MASS MoCA not only houses a renowned art museum, but is also home to many creative powerhouses.
"Gary Lichtenstein is a uniquely inventive force in the art world... an extremely talented artist whose work has too often been invisible – not that you cannot see his work, but you might not be aware that it is his. Such is the fate of the collaborative artist."
Director, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
Gary Lichtenstein holds a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute, and an MFA from Antioch College.