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Roy Lichtenstein's love affair with L.A. on view at the Skirball

Roy Lichtenstein’s wry, comic book-y images may feel quintessentially New York. The Pop art pioneer, after all, grew up on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he lived most of his life. But for more than 25 years, Lichtenstein had a love affair with Los Angeles.

At least every other year starting in the late 1960s, and always strategically timed in the dead of winter, Lichtenstein migrated to L.A. to create new prints at Gemini G.E.L., the workshop that was at the epicenter of the nationwide printmaking revival happening at the time.

The Skirball Cultural Center’s “Pop for the People: Roy Lichtenstein in L.A.,” which opens Oct. 7, explores the artist’s relationship with L.A. While the retrospective charts a range of periods in Lichtenstein’s personal life and career — from his New York youth as the grandson of German Jewish immigrants to his World War II Army years to his partnership with New York gallerist Leo Castelli in the early 1960s — the exhibition focuses on Lichtenstein’s L.A. work and its broader social and political impact.  

“Pop for the People” includes more than 70 of Lichtenstein’s works over four decades. Some of the pieces have rarely been exhibited, such as the artist’s “Ten Dollar Bill” (1956), one of his first Pop art pieces. Others are now iconic, such as his portrait “Bobby Kennedy” (1968) and “Gun in America” (1968), both of which appeared on the cover of Time magazine. Rare photographs of the artist at work, paper plates he turned into art, even clothing items such as a 1970 bowling shirt he printed on will be on view. The museum will install a three-dimensional, life-sized re-creation of Lichtenstein’s 1992 “Bedroom at Arles,” which itself is a re-imagining of Vincent van Gogh’s series by the same name.

The Gemini works, however — more than 20 will be on display at Skirball — anchor the exhibition. 

“L.A. was this open canvas, Lichtenstein found an openness here, and Gemini was willing to completely redo the printing process for him,” exhibition curator Bethany Montagano says. “You see it in the colors, the shapes and that he wanted to do things that were so massive on scale. The New York art world, while burgeoning and exciting, was also pretty insular. Lichtenstein came out here, and he felt free.”

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin

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