"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.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 236