Five Facts About James Rosenquist
(This is the second in a series of blog posts we’re doing to document the arrival and installation of The North Dakota Mural. You can view part 1 [the installation of new windows to our atrium] here.)
We’re ever so close now to the debut of the The North Dakota Mural by James Rosenquist, and it’s a perfect time to talk about the man himself. If you’re unfamiliar with him and his art, below are five essential facts to get you started. Over a long and successful career, Rosenquist has compiled an incredible resumé and, certainly, there’s more about his life than we can cover here. If you’re interested in learning more about him his recently published autobiography, Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art is a wonderful read and resource (and available at our Museum Store). Click here to read a more detailed bio and review of this book by The Economist. For more about Rosenquist and The North Dakota Mural, read The Forum’s recent story. A detailed biography is also available on his website.
Five Facts About James Rosenquist
1. He’s from North Dakota. Rosenquist was born in Grand Forks in 1933, moving around the region frequently in his youth and spending a fair amount of time at his grandfather’s farm near Mekinock, N.D. Rosenquist has noted that the landscape he was a part of became an inspiration for his perspective on the world – the wide open prairie would often be home to large stretches of disjointed imagery. After settling in Minneapolis, he graduated high school there and attended the University of Minnesota.
2. He began his career painting billboards. Rosenquist worked for General Outdoor Advertising in Minneapolis following his graduation from college. In the early 1950s, billboards were all painted by hand, and he became well-trained in the process. Following his move to New York City in 1955, Rosenquist enrolled in the Art Students League and within a few years began professionally painting billboards once again. This experience proved to be a critical component of his work. He learned how to scale small images into large ones and to work the materials necessary for creating large murals.
3. He is considered a founder of the Pop Art movement. While in New York, Rosenquist began to paint large murals that incorporated the effects he had learned painting billboards and the techniques of commercial advertising. His paintings would juxtapose seemingly unrelated fragments into works that defy easy explanation but do pull in the viewer’s curiosity – chosen for their form and color, many of his subjects are all instantly recognizable (visit Rosenquist’s website for examples of his artwork.)
In Painting Below Zero, Rosenquist says that he “never cared for” the term Pop Art, explaining that the term “pop” lent itself to something unimportant or impermanent. Still, he became grouped with other artists from that era (Andy Warhol and Roy Liechtenstein, for example) who were working with a similar set of tools. They all utilized popular American images in an ironic sense in their work and provided commentaries on the emergence of 1950s-era consumer culture. Rosenquist said that they should have been known as “antipop” artists. His breakthrough piece, F-111, offered a commentary on modern militarism through a mural that wrapped around the walls of the Castelli Gallery in New York. This was the beginning of a long period of critical success for his art.
4. He has received numerous accolades for his work which resides in collections across the world. Rosenquist has received a number of honorary doctorates and was appointed by Jimmy Carter to serve on the National Council on the Arts from 1978-1983. In 1987, he was named to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His work has been shown throughout the world and has been collected by a number of museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, The Guggenheim, The National Gallery of Art, and many others. A retrospective of his work was shown by the Guggenheim in 2003.
5. He has maintained a successful career spanning five decades and continuing to this day. While tastes in visual art have changed, Rosenquist remains a relevant and in-demand painter. He continues to fulfill requests for commissions and continues to push forward with his art. An exhibition of new work, Time Blades, was shown at the Aquavella Galleries in 2007.
In April, 2009, a major fire destroyed Rosenquist’s home and studio in Aripeka, Fla., taking all of his work with it, including a first version of The North Dakota Mural. He immediately rebuilt his home and studio and began working again, completing commissions and continuing to inspire with his work even at age 77.