The early 1960s marked a period when several young New York artists began to use banal media images--from advertisements, comic books, billboards and television--as sources for their art. Artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol--collectively known as the Pop artists--sought to emphasize the transformation of the everyday object into art, while still maintaining their fine art roots. Roy Lichtenstein is of primary importance to this movement, particularly for his images derived from both print advertisements and comic strips. While the paintings taken from print ads mark Lichtenstein's first important body of work, these early images of consumer products and domestic interiors might have been less significant were it not for the comic strip paintings that accompanied them. 'In the notorious marriage of a wholly radical subject matter with the methods of fine art, Roy Lichtenstein brought to a new level of consciousness, both visual and intellectual, an awareness of the American life style and brilliantly proclaimed the comic strip as a fitting theme for the new American painting of the 1960s' (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1969, p. 12).
Painted from 1961-1965, the comic strip paintings generally fall into three categories: war and violence, love and romance and the less-often employed science fiction category. Collectively, this series addressed Lichtenstein's style and formal concerns, and emphasized the visual possibilities of the object he chose to paint. His aim was to transform the image into art by unifying the picture plane, his subject and his style. Of the three comic strip categories, the war and violence pictures are the most aggressive and intense. As in Tex!, these paintings present 'a serious subject in an inflammatory manner, while re-introducing narrative into art and re-creating the mode of monumental painting in a style suitable to late twentieth-century art' (D. Waldman, Roy Lichtenstein, New York 1993, p. 93).
Roy Lichtenstein began painting his war comics in 1962, a time when most Americans were simultaneously glorifying and questioning the notion of war. Although the United States still lauded itself for its heroic victory in World War II, Americans found themselves in the midst of the Cold War, and the Vietnam conflict was threatening to become full-scale combat. War's omnipresence in the minds of Americans had a definitive effect upon Lichtenstein's works, such as Tex!, of the period; however, the war comics are of primary importance because they express American Pop culture's values. Lichtenstein himself has said, 'A minor purpose of my war paintings is to put military aggressiveness in an absurd light. [However], my work is more about our American definition of images and visual communication' (Waldman 1971, p. 27).
"[Lichtenstein's] war paintings exaggerate the clichés of war's grand subjects--heroism and sacrifice, the fighting spirit and the comraderie of soldiers, and the belief that war is hell but full of glory nonetheless. World War II was, and is, considered a 'just' war by most Americans, but by the time of the Vietnam conflict the issue of war threatened to tear the nation apart. In the comic strips from which Lichtenstein took his subjects, the leading men are meant to be seen as authentic World War II heroes. By overstating their roles, however, and exaggerating their macho posture, fearless attitude and powerful weapons, Lichtenstein made his men into caricatures of the wartime hero...By presenting such stereotypes in an ironic and questioning manner, Lichtenstein cast doubt on their validity while continuing the tradition of one of civilization's most fundamental themes in art." (Waldman 1993, p. 93)
In the war comics, Lichtenstein did not attempt to portray an actual three-dimensional object; instead, the source for his images was a 'representation of a representation:' a two-dimensional comic strip suggesting a three-dimensional object. In Tex!, for example, Lichtenstein used the original comic strip--Irv Novick's "Star Jockey," from D. C. Comic's All American Men of War series--as a guide. However, he improved upon the original by isolating in on the most important moment in the sequence--in this case, the highly charged, emotional moment when a pilot is in the midst of combat. By zooming in, editing and cropping the image, Lichtenstein draws the viewer into the picture emotionally, an effect rarely employed by commercial artists. For example, in Tex!, the diagonal, upward-pointing nose of the protagonist's plane directs the viewer's eye straight to the exploding flames of the other aircraft, thus stirring tension within the viewer. In addition, the placement of the subject matter against a Benday dot background establishes a dialectical strain between figure and ground.
However, Lichtenstein's painting technique in Tex! differs vastly from the emotional charge his paintings create. Cool and reductive, his painting style draws from clues given by commercial artists: the use of solely primary colors--blue, red, yellow, black and white--accompanied by the large areas of flat color, black outline to define the figures, and hand-applied benday dots to depict space. The look of the exploding plane has more of a decorative, design-like quality to it than the feel of an intense blast. Lichtenstein's technique in Tex! is a masterful example of the Pop aesthetic.