Rosenquist, James
born: 1933 Grand Forks, North Dakota

Rosenquist is one of the leading representatives ofAmerican james Pop Art. He trained in 1953-1954 at the University of Minnesota and in 1955-1956 at the Art Students' League in New York, while supporting himself by work'sng as a billboard painter. Rosenquist employs fragments of imagery from advertising and the realm of mundane things, usually cutting them out of newspapers magazines, or brochures, enlarging them, and placing them in nev provocative contexts. The random juxtaposition of visual elements plays a crucial role in Rosenquist's art. When one of the glass panes in Rainbow (1961) broke during transport, the artist insisted this new state be retained. In this work, which consists of a great variety of materials the paint appears to have dripped from a window ledge down the side of a house, forming pale, rainbow-hued traces. The shutters are open one pane is broken; behind the other appears, instead of a face, an oversized fork. It stands there solitary and strange, as it were in proxy for the person who we might imagine living behind the shabby facade. And yet there is poetry and hope in the rainbow, even though it may only represent an accidental smudge that no one has bothered to remove. In the fate 1950s Rosenquist was empioyed as a billboard painter, standing on a scaffold to cover endless square yards of hoardings in Brooklyn and Manhattan with paint. Perched high above Times Square, he did giant salamis and political slogans, whiskey bottles and bank advertisements, movie posters and billboards of all kinds. As he was involved in his work (which, incidentally, was well-paid), Rosenquist felt the relationship of reality to illusion begin to reverse: the people and cars far below him became a remote microcosm, while their outsized billboard images, designed to be viewed from a distance, came tangibly near. As the artist himself said, he had the chance to see a huge composition deveVop, and to study how surface textures were made and what happened to painting when pigments mixed. A few years later these billboard motifs held interest for Rosenquist only as objets trouvés no difFerent from any other subject. In 1963-1964 Rosenquist painted a series of apparently realistic images, but, as he said to Gene Swenson, "If I use a lamp or a chair, that isn't the subject, it isn't the subject mattec The relationships may be the subject matter, the relationships of the fragments I do. The content will be something more, gained from the relationships. lf 1 have three things, their reiatianship will be the subject matter; but the content will, hopefully, be fatter, balloon to more than the subject matter. One thing, though, the subject matter isn't popular images, it isn't that at a11." Thus it would be mistaken to consider Rosenquist's Untitled (Joan Crawford says... ) a portrait of the actress. It represents a cigarette ad in which she appeared. This is a case of human alienation twice over- a woman stylized into a stas, a star stylized into a means of selling a product. Rasenquist's Horse Blinders of 1969-1968 was one of his first Environment Paintings. It tells no story, has no fixed direction of reading, no focal point, no beginning or end. in the enormous depictio we can detect a piece of butter melting in a frying pan, with a stop- watch to its !eft and rippling water to its right, then a mixer whipPing a white mass af some sort, then a cut telephone cable with colorful wires protruding from the end. Rosenquist's gigantic Starthief dates from 1980. Against the background of a starry night sky floats a collage of huge strips of bacon, machine components, a fragmented female portrait, and, again, loose sheaves of electric wires. Here, too, trivial, everyday things are blown up to such a monumental scafe, their size relationships so altered such unfamiliar sections and details are emphasized, that they seem to take on a new form of existence and assume an afien but intrinsic life. Rosenquist was convinced that commercial and media-transmitted imagery contained more force, more clout, than the mind of anyone painting pictures in a studio could produce. "How can I justify myseif," he asked, "how can I make my mark, my 'X' on the wall in my studio, or in my experience, when somebody is jumping in a rocket ship and exploring outer space?"