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James Rosenquist (American, born 1933)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter, printmaker and sculptor. While still at school in 1948 he won a scholarship to study at the Minneapolis School of Art, and from 1952 to 1955 he studied painting at the University of Minnesota. In 1955 he moved to New York to study at the Art Students League on a scholarship. He earned his living as a billboard painter from 1957, and in 1960 he began to apply similar techniques of grossly enlarged and fragmented images to huge paintings such as President Elect (oil on masonite, 2.13×3.66 m, 1960–61; Paris, Pompidou), in which the glamorous face of John F. Kennedy is combined with the side of a 1950s car and a hand holding a piece of cake painted in grey as if it were a black-and-white photograph. Rosenquist’s debt to Surrealism in his reliance on seemingly irrational juxtapositions was evident in the majority of his paintings, for example in I Love you with my Ford (oil on canvas, 2.10×2.38 m, 1961; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.), which in its three horizontal registers includes the image of the front of a car, a close-up of lovers kissing and a garishly coloured tangle of tinned spaghetti. His references, however, to mass-produced goods and to magazines, films and other aspects of the mass media, together with his dispassionate and seemingly anonymous technique, caused him to be regarded as one of the key figures in the development of Pop art in the USA.

Rosenquist’s treatment of typical Pop subject-matter such as sex and consumerism had little in common with the directness and immediacy of work by such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein; rather than seeking to duplicate his source material, he preferred to impose himself on it through procedures of disruption and dislocation, as in Marilyn Monroe I (oil and spray enamel on canvas, 2.36×1.84 m, 1962; New York, MOMA), in which the film star’s features are presented in a dismembered form as if to imply that her personality had been shattered by the pressures of fame. Rosenquist was also unusual among Pop artists in his overt involvement with political themes in works such as Painting for the American Negro (oil on canvas, 2.03×5.33 m, 1962–3; Ottawa, N.G.) and above all in his most famous work, F-111 (oil on canvas with aluminium, 3.05×26.21 m, 1965; New York, priv. col., see 1985 exh. cat., pp. 130–35), a huge painting occupying the four walls of a room on fifty-one separate but interlocking pieces, as if it had been blown apart by the American fighter plane pictured on its surface and then reassembled.

Rosenquist’s interest in technical experimentation led him to produce a few sculptures such as Capillary Action II (oil, plastic, neon, metal and wood, h. 2.67 m, 1963; Ottawa, N.G.), an assemblage using a real tree as an objet trouvé. Given his preference for printed source material, however, screenprints and particularly lithographs proved to be more appropriate media through which to propagate images already proposed in his paintings (see Glenn). His major later works were further large-scale paintings dazzling in their technical virtuosity, such as Horse Blinders (oil on canvas with aluminium, 3.05×25.76 m, 1968–9; Cologne, Mus. Ludwig), Star Thief (oil on canvas, 5.18×14.02 m, 1980; Chicago, priv. col., see 1985 exh. cat., pp. 169–70) and House of Fire (oil on canvas, 1.98×5.02 m, 1981; New York, Met.). He remained committed to the Pop aesthetic of his work of the early 1960s, which in turn acted as a stimulus to David Salle and other young painters in the 1980s.

Marco Livingstone
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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