The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 236
"Painting is probably much more exciting than advertising," Rosenquist has said, "so why shouldn't it be done with that power and gusto, with that impact." Like other Pop artists, Rosenquist is fascinated by commercial and everyday images. He also understands the power of advertising's use of "things larger than life"—he once painted billboards for a living—and even in early abstractions he borrowed the exaggeratedly cheerful palette of the giant signs. His next step was to explore the artistic potential of the billboard's scale and photographic style.
Rosenquist generally spikes that style with disorienting fractures and recombinations of images. F-111 becomes still more overwhelming through its particularly enormous size and panoramic shape: it is designed to fill the four walls of a room, engulfing and surrounding the viewer—unlike a billboard, which, despite its magnitude, can be viewed all at once. Also unlike a billboard, F-111 fuses pictures of American prosperity with a darker visual current. A diver's air bubbles are rhymed by a mushroom cloud; a smiling little girl sits under a missilelike hairdryer; a sea of spaghetti looks uncomfortably visceral; and weaving through and around all these images is the F-111 itself, a U.S. Air Force fighter-bomber. Painted during the Vietnam War, F-111 draws disturbing connections between militarism and the consumerist structure of the American economy.
MoMA2000: Open Ends (1960–2000), September 28, 2000-March 4, 2001
Artist, James Rosenquist: F-111, in 1965, was the latest American fighter-bomber in the planning stage. Its mission seemed obsolete before it was finished. It seemed the prime force of this war machine was to economically keep people employed in Texas and Long Island.
At the time, I thought people involved in its making were heading for something, but I didn't know what, like bugs going towards a blinding light. By doing this they could achieve two-and-a-half children, three-and-a-half cars, and a house in the suburbs.
In the painting I incorporated orange spaghetti, cake, light bulbs, flowers, and many other things. It felt to me like a plane flying through the flak of an economy. The little girl was the pilot under a hair-dryer. The town and country industrial auto tire resembles a crown. The umbrella and the Italian flowered wallpaper roller image had to do with atomic fallout. The swimmer gulping air was like searching for air during an atomic holocaust [...].
In 1964, the painting was originally designed to surround all the walls of the Leo Castelli Gallery on East 77th Street. The reason was I was concerned with peripheral vision. I wanted to specify that whatever one looked at would exist because of the peripheral vision that extends from the corner of the eye. Thus one would question one's own self-consciousness [...]. In the 1960s, the painting was critically taken as an anti-war protest, but there were a multiplicity of ideas that caused its existence.