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James Rosenquist

(b. 1933)


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(1933– ).

Painter, printmaker, and occasional sculptor. A major contributor to pop art, he specialized during the 1960s in monumental paintings juxtaposing extreme close-ups of unrelated subjects from popular culture. Rosenquist's experience as a billboard painter drove the formation of his personal style of immediately readable forms, garish colors, and distorted scale. The pessimistic, unsettling, and irrational tone of his work contrasts markedly with the easy-going banality of much pop art. Rosenquist's best known work, F-111 (Museum of Modern Art, 1964–65), bears the name of the U.S. Air Force bomber it represents, interrupted by a number of unrelated vignettes. These include a little girl grinning under a hairdryer, a mushroom cloud, a tangle of canned spaghetti, a birthday cake, and a heavily treaded tire. With its implicit criticism of gluttonous consumer culture, defense spending, and the Vietnam War, the work prefigures many that carry a socially critical outlook. Much of his later art stresses decorative resolution, but disturbing overtones remain common. Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1942 James Albert Rosenquist moved with his family to Minneapolis. In 1952 he enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he studied with Cameron Booth (1892–1980), a painter whose work evolved from modernist-inflected regionalism to pure abstraction. Rosenquist also gained initial experience as a commercial billboard painter before leaving for New York in 1954. During a year at the Art Students League, his teachers included Edwin Dickinson, George Grosz, and Morris Kantor. In the late 1950s he again worked as a billboard artist. In 1960 he decided to paint full time, abandoned his abstract style, and soon completed his first studio painting to employ commercial techniques and imagery related to advertising. In 1965 F-111 created a sensation when it appeared at Leo Castelli's gallery. Ten feet high and eighty-six feet in length, the multipanel work wrapped around the gallery's walls, enveloping the spectator in a surrealistic visual and psychological collage. In later decades, overt political critiques diminished as he addressed varied subjects with great technical skill and no loss of formal power. An uneasy atmosphere emanating from their peculiar subject matter, an early 1990s series of overscaled Gift-Wrapped Dolls focuses on prettified faces, partially concealed by wrinkled cellophane. The radiant, abstracted forms in the bravura Speed of Light series from about ten years later evoke, as the artist intended, the dizzying collapse of time in an Einsteinian universe. Active as a printmaker since the 1960s, he has worked primarily with lithography. Rosenquist divides his time between Manhattan, the rural suburb of Bedford, New York, and Aripeka, on Florida's Gulf Coast north of Tampa Bay, where he has maintained a residence and studio for some thirty years.

Subjects: Art.


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