James Rosenquist began painting billboards in Minneapolis, where he was also enrolled in art school. In 1955 he moved to New York, attending the Art Students League and later working as a Times Square billboard painter and as a window-display designer. Initially creating canvases in an Abstract Expressionist mode, Rosenquist dramatically shifted his style in the late 1950s to mimic his slick billboard work. His fragmented images, of an exaggerated scale and with Pop-culture references, quickly identified him as a leading proponent of Pop art.
Having worked independently in larger-than-life formats, Rosenquist did not naturally take to the intimate scale and technical processes of traditional printmaking. But spurred on by publisher Tatyana Grosman of the newly founded Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in the early 1960s, he made imposing, experimental lithographs using airbrushes, wallpaper rollers, stencils, and the commercial color-separation process. In the coming decades, collaborating with innovative workshops that embraced new materials and approaches—Styria Studio, Graphicstudio, Gemini G.E.L., and Tyler Graphics among them—Rosenquist created prints of unprecedented scale and ambition, including multipanel installations. He has completed more than three hundred prints to date.
Campaign, one of Rosenquist’s earliest published prints, typifies the artist’s strategy of combining unrelated images and colors that are ambiguous in meaning but unexpectedly unified in composition. With both commercial and political underpinnings, Campaign includes fragments from a painting that the artist produced for an anti-Vietnam War demonstration. The Kleenex boxes, salt shaker, and floral wallpaper design are symbols of consumer culture. The more subtle depiction of a military uniform being sprinkled with salt—the artist’s allusion to the tale about peacefully capturing a bird by sprinkling salt on its tail—suggests a nonviolent alternative to war. The title Campaign, in addition to its military association, refers to the artist’s twenty-day stay at ULAE to complete this print.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Judy Hecker, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 167.