James Rosenquist

Painting is probably more exciting than advertising so why shouldn’t it be done with that power and gusto, that impact.

-James Rosenquist

James Rosenquist is credited with being one of the leading protagonists of the Pop Art movement because of his billboard-like art and interesting subject matter. Although closely aligned with this movement, his work differs from “typical” Pop Art. Rosenquist uses perspective much more than other artists and realistically portrays three-dimensional objects in his paintings. He uses a larger and much more varied color palette in his works and relies much more heavily on hand painting. He also creates dramatic shifts in scale. Yet, while his art might seem like a billboard, it is exactly unlike one. His works have no clear singular message. In his pieces, he uses objects that appeal to him like cars, food, paperclips, small objects and often manipulates scale to the extreme. Spaghetti will be made to look larger than an automobile. He uses lavish colors painted on top of a white lead paint base. According to art historian Peter Schjeldahl, they have the “sheen of digital creations, in spite of their traditional process.” Rosenquist believes pictorial space is more important than imagery and his use of imagery is often more synthetic rather than analytic. Irony is only a minor component of his work. His work has been categorized as a new type of history painting – minus the rhetoric and clear moralizing.

Horse Blinders (east) is one of Rosenquist’s color lithograph and screenprints. The image consists of what appears to be a spoon in a cup of yogurt or pudding, with the foil peeled back. A piece of electrical cable enters into that image from the left, however the cable could easily be confused for some sort of paint brush. Rosenquist uses bright colors, including a color spectrum behind the cup, while in the forefront there are skinny stripes of red, white, and blue, on top of blotched black and blue spots over the red, pink, and orange. Rosenquist could be making a commentary on kitchen technology and how it is either removing or creating our “horse blinders.”

Wells Fargo Bank donated this piece to Plains Art Museum in 2003.

Artist Bio

I’m a prairie-thinking man.

-James Rosenquist

James Rosenquist, credited with being one of the 5 most important painters of the Pop Art movement along with Warhol, Lichtenstein, Oldenburg, and Wesselmann, is known for his billboard-like paintings.

Rosenquist was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1933 and spent a number of his early years learning how to draw and paint. He attended the University of Minnesota, where he studied under Cameron Booth. Rosenquist supported himself by painting grain elevators, storage bins and signs across the region. At Booth’s urging, Rosenquist moved to New York in 1955 where he attended the Art Student’s League on a scholarship. He remained at the school for only a year and drifted towards a job painting billboards.

In 1958, he started producing what curator Walter Hopps calls his first “truly mature paintings” which Rosenquist coined the “wrong-color paintings” because he used cheap, left over paint from his jobs. In 1960, a significant shift occurred in Rosenquist’s style as he started using aspects of billboard painting in his art. His commercial billboard days ended when he was first identified as a new and important member of the Pop Art movement at Richard Bellamy’s Green Gallery in February of 1962. He continued gaining success throughout the world, and although he emerged as an important figure in Pop Art, Hopps claims that “his significant work began independently of the movement and continued on to become something that was quite distinct from it.” In 1971, Rosenquist and his wife and son were badly injured in a serious car accident, which drastically disrupted his career. Towards the end of the 1970s, however, Rosenquist was back in full force and continues to create paintings and sculptures today. His most famous and well-known piece from 1965, F-111, was purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for its permanent collection.

Rosenquist tackles a variety of subjects, often on the same canvas, and yet he seems to make an extremely disparate composition somehow rational. He allows images that one doesn’t necessarily associate to collide in his work. His subjects often revolve around consumer products, scientific instruments, electronic communication, fragments of both famous and unknown people, antiwar and antigun statements, flowers, dolls, and many other objects. When asked why he portrays spaghetti so often in his pieces, Rosenquist replied, “Two reasons: I like the way it looks, and I like the way it tastes.”

His work has been exhibited throughout the world including at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, the Pyo Gallery in Seoul, South Korea, the Center for Contemporary Graphic Art in Fukushima, Japan, the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin, the Mayor Gallery in London, the Thorden Wetterling Galleries in Goteborg, Sweden, and many others. His work has also been exhibited throughout the United States including at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Seattle Art Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art, Plains Art Museum in Fargo/Moorhead, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, the Denver Art Museum, and many others.

James Rosenquist, Horse Blinders (east), an ed. of 37/85, 1972, color lithograph and screenprint with metallic paper, 36.5 x 68″