James Rosenquist
Biography of American Billboard Painter and Pop Artist Noted for F-111 Painting.

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F-111 (1965)
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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James Rosenquist (b.1933)


Early Career and Training
Pop Art
F-111 (MOMA, New York)
Later Works

For other Pop-art images similar to
those produced by Rosenquist, see:
Greatest 20th-Century Paintings.


A central figure in the Pop Art movement, the former billboard painter and designer James Rosenquist took as his inspiration the subject and style of 60s mass-consumer culture - illustrated by Coca-Cola bottles, kitchen appliances and other products - which he chronicled in both his painting and printmaking. In his signature style of modern art, Rosenquist is noted for his immaculately painted canvases whose complex layers and juxtapositions of banal imagery commented sharply on the values of American consumerism. Like the Pop sculptor Claes Oldenberg (b.1929), Rosenquist specialized in monumental size pictures so as to give his banal subjects maximum gravitas. Seen as a major contributor to American art of the 1960s, his best-known work is his huge wraparound painting F-111 (1965, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a 23-panel work that juxtaposes American consumer products against the backdrop of a military aircraft. In addition to painting, Rosenquist has produced the occasional sculpture, such as Capillary Action II (1963, National Gallery, Ottawa), a huge range of prints (using lithography and etching as well as silkscreen methods), as well as drawings and collage art. One of his prints, Time Dust (1992, various art museums), measuring approximately 7 x 35 feet, is reputed to be the largest print in the world. Other important modern artists associated with Pop art include: Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97), Ray Johnson (1927-95), Alex Katz (b.1927), Andy Warhol (1928-87), Robert Indiana (b.1928), Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), Tom Wesselmann (b.1931), Jim Dine (b.1935) and Ed Ruscha (b.1937). For a comparison of styles, compare Rosenquist's Marilyn Monroe I (1962, MOMA, New York) with similar examples of Andy Warhol's Pop Art (1959-73). Although one of many commercial artists in the movement, Rosenquist's references to mass-produced goods and mass media icons, together with his dispassionate, anonymous technique, and exceptional painterly skills, made him one of the key figures in the development of Pop art in the USA.

Early Career and Training

Born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to a family of Swedish descent, Rosenquist grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota. He was encouraged to take up drawing by his mother. While at high school he won a scholarship to the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design), and later studied painting at the University of Minnesota (1952-54). The following year, at the age of 21, he moved to New York City to take up a scholarship at the Art Students League - where he met Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) - while supporting himself by working as a billboard painter, and designer. In his spare time, he produced a number of small-scale abstract paintings in the manner of the dominant New York school of Abstract Expressionism.

Pop Art

At the start of the 60s, Rosenquist abandoned abstract expressionist painting in order to exploit the techniques and iconography which he had acquired in his commercial work. Indeed nearly all his best-known Pop works are based on his experience as a billboard painter, familiar with 60-foot-wide images of refrigerators, macaroni salads and women's lipsticked lips. An early example is President Elect (1961, Pompidou Centre, Paris), in which the tanned face of John F. Kennedy is combined with unrelated images as if the whole thing was a black-and-white photograph. Surrealism was another important influence as illustrated by: I Love you with my Ford (1961, Moderna Museet, Stockholm). Rosenquist's specialty is arranging fragmented, juxtaposed images into overlapping layers, and putting them on canvases to create a discordant visual narrative. In addition to juxtaposing disjunctive images and motifs, Rosenquist also depicted grisaille and full colour in the same work, creating a pastiche style which paved the way for similar works of postmodernist art in the 70s and 80s.

F-111 (MOMA, New York)

Rosenquist's style of Pop is exemplified by his room-size masterpiece F-111 (1965, MOMA, NY), in which he made full use of his applied art and sign-painting techniques. Originally created to cover all 4 walls of the Leo Castelli gallery in New York, the painting includes separate images of a mushroom cloud under a beach umbrella, some spaghetti, a piece of cake, a Firestone tire, a swimmer, light bulbs, and a little girl under a hairdryer, all set against the backdrop of an F-111 fighter jet. The giant image drew attention to the relationship between military might and consumer economics. MOMA was so impressed (or so misled) that in 1968 it showcased the work as an example of 20th-century history painting, alongside works by Jacques-Louis David and Nicolas Poussin.

Later Works

Rosenquist's later works included a number of large-scale paintings which impressed the art critics with their technical virtuosity, such as Star Thief (1980, Private Collection) and House of Fire (1981, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). In 1998 he completed a large-scale commission for Deutsche Guggenheim - the three-painting suite The Swimmer in the Econo-mist (1997–8), as well as a ceiling mural for the Palais de Chaillot in Paris.

His first mid-career retrospective was in 1972, courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne. Later, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum staged a full-career retrospective in 2003, which also travelled overseas.

Paintings and prints by James Rosenquist can be seen in the collections of many other art museums in America.


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