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1923-1997

Roy Lichtenstein

By Larry Rivers

It’s good I came forth because I had an idea that if you were ignorant of the person you were talking about there was a certain virtue in that, but now I see that everybody who preceded me actually gave a rather good rundown of some of the accomplishments of the person they spoke about.

My idea was that I didn’t really have to tell you much about Roy.  Everyone knows what he did or at least thinks he knows what he did,  and so I left that part out. Let me refer to a few jottings I made to my self: I don’t know how many of you were out in the Hamptons when  Roy was taken to the hospital; no one dreamt that it was very serious.  He had a cold – that he ended up dead because of a cold was quite a shock. I later found out that he had pneumonia; I never knew pneumonia was a fatal disease. It became very serious, and he died. 

I imagine many in the audience may have experienced this: slowly all these people whom you’ve known for twenty years don’t appear in  your daily life as much as they used to. Roy was one of those people. I  knew Roy fairly well. Ours is a party society. A lot of people we say we know are really just people whom we’ve met at parties, or cocktails or whatever you want to call it, and either we don’t get invited to as many as we once did or the whole idea of parties seems to be something that takes place among younger people. Well, at any rate, when I first met him, Roy seemed a happy type. I know that during the Eisenhower administration, or around that time, he was going with someone called Eisenhower and I never actually found out if she was related to Ike. It’s one of those simple details that hover over people that you remember in a situation like this. 

I told Virginia that I hardly have more than three things to report. I have managed to say about three things. At any rate, to cover his work for a second: I liked his work, I thought he was funny. He actually was. He didn’t pass on too many opinions about other artists, which many artists do if you get a minute alone with them, and I thought that was sort of nice. But then later on I found out that he had a lot of opinions about many artists, especially artists who work hard on canvases that had about two marks on them. He agreed with me that these guys were not very funny and I liked that he agreed with me.

My daughter said that he seemed very saintly, and I thought about “saintly.” I don’t know if any of you had seen much of Ray, aside from some photographs. He was very thin and he looked like, if you blew very hard, he might fall over, but he was actually pretty strong.

He lived on Gin Lane, along the water, in Southampton, and I lived on Little Plains Road, a mile away. He was in good shape. He used to run, but I don’t think he arrived at his weight because he ran; he was just always thin. And my daughter thought he looked like a saint. I used to watch him running along the road. I at that time only walked, so I always had the feeling that he had a slightly superior activity. I mean, if you do any exercising, there’s a certain place that running holds.

Once, at a party he gave me an idea. Some artists influence the shapes you’re going to choose, or subjects you’re going to follow, or ways you’re going to paint. There are other artists whose way in the art field seems more attractive to imitate and he was one of those people for me.

What Roy accomplished as an artist I think has been gone into. One of the things I liked about his work was that it changed often. It was a great relief to meet someone who didn’t hang on, as if it was the only thing he could do, as one found with many of the abstract painters, or the simplists – I forget the name of the group of artists who don’t do much. At any rate, he seemed to change, and while those cartoons seemed to be what the subject was, you found out later that because of his interest in the dots that created it, he actually moved on to using the dots as subject matter. I liked him very much.

He was surprising about gifts he brought. He would come to a party and bring two pounds of peanuts. Maybe all of you are used to people who bring two pounds of peanuts. So, he had that in his soul.

That’s my experience with Roy. I could go on and on. One little thing – I’m not sure you could know it just by looking at the work, but he did work all the time. He was one of those boring artists who really can hardly think of anything to do but their art. So I’ll end on that note.

 

Read at the Academy Dinner Meeting on November 10, 1999.

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