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James Rosenquist: Successful Life Path and the Most Significant Artworks

29.11.2021
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James Rosenquist Artworks

James Rosenquist collages and scaling-up paintings hint directly at the cultural and political tenor of the time in which they were created. From his famous pop-art paintings to billboard-sized works and continuing his recent use of abstract painting techniques.

Let’s delve into James’ biography and learn interesting facts about his life and amazing examples of his work.

Early Years

James Rosenquist was born in North Dakota and was the only child in the family.His parents, Ruth and Louise Rosenquist, were amateur pilots. His father was looking for work repairing airplanes, so the family often changed places of residence. During World War II, the family would send a young boy to stay with his grandfather on his farm near Mekinok, North Dakota. When the war ended, they all settled in Minneapolis. By then James had lived in five different cities and attended seven different schools. During the summer after school, he worked part-time picking up newspapers, selling ice cream, picking up seasonal produce from his grandfather’s farm, and doing deliveries at the local drugstore.

James’ mother was an amateur painter. She diligently fostered her son’s artistic abilities. Whenever possible, she took him to art schools and museums. Paper was then incredibly difficult to find, but the young Rosenquist painted on rolls of found wallpaper. And while his parents were at work, the future artist Rosenquist painted large battle scenes, cars, planes and boats, never tiring of honing his skills. As an 8th grader in high school, his watercolor work depicting a sunset earned him a grant for four free classes at the Minneapolis School of Art. There he met real artists of his time who studied art in Paris after World War II.

Study Period and Talent Formation

James Rosenquist’s art education began to take shape in 1952, when he enrolled at the University of Minnesota and studied under the talented artist Cameron Booth. An American abstract expressionist, Booth introduced his students to modern and cutting-edge art movements and took them to all the exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago.

During his first summer college season, Rosenquist began working as a commercial sign painter, traveling all over Minnesota and Iowa to do important work.

Although most signs are now printed, in the 1950s billboards were painted by hand, and this required patience, skill and considerable effort. The artist spent a long time painting large-scale up signs based on small photographs he was given. This work had a strong influence on his art as a consequence. But all this did not stop the artist from creating abstract expressionist paintings while still in school. James Rosenquist considered his painting particularly heroic. He was inspired by the way he accurately and vigorously expressed his emotions on canvas.

The Poor Student Years

The changes in the artist’s life began in 1955, he enrolled in the Art Students League in New York. Rosenquist was advised to leave the Midwest and go to New York. There he eventually studied with Will Barnett, Vaclav Vytlacil and George Grosz. The artist also interacted with members of the literary genre such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

After moving to New York, the young talent experienced a culture shock that changed his views on wealth and consumerism. His life was forever changed. He was young and without money, and luxury was out of the question…

Working for the Future

After working in the studio on abstract expressionism, James Rosenquist also painted billboards. It wasn’t just an opportunity to make some money. In fact, working alongside experienced artists like this honed his abilities in colorism and perspective. As an artist, Rosenquist experimented with color, learned to manipulate paint to imitate other media and developed an interest in the influence and prevalence of advertising in American culture. After quitting his job in 1960, Rosenquist applied everything he had learned to his paintings on canvas.

Personal Life and Success of the Artist

James Rosenquist Personal Life

1960 was an important year for the artist. After marrying textile designer Mary Lou Adams, the artist began renting a small studio in the Coenties Slip, a neighborhood of lower Manhattan popular with emerging artists at the time. Among his neighbors were Robert Indiana, Agnes Martin, and Ellsworth Kelly. Working in this new studio, Rosenquist began to reconsider his approach to painting. The abstract expressionist style began to seem trite. What had been chic in the 1940s and early fifties became in an instant bizarre and uninteresting. things that cannot be confused with anything else.

Then the artist turned to the new realism and techniques he had developed while drawing billboards. Working on a huge scale, Rosenquist painted brightly colored, fragmented paintings from the commercial sphere, creating collages concerning America’s socio-political and economic climate. Collectors and influential gallerists such as Richard Bellamy and Leo Castelli began to show interest in Rosenquist’s new paintings. His work made his debut as a pop art artist in 1962. His first solo exhibition at the Green Gallery in New York sold out immediately. James Rosenquist was called a pop artist because he used recognizable images.

Fame came to Rosenquist quickly. The artist seemed to be as much in demand as his large-scale paintings. His successful career continued to grow, and in 1987 he was accepted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in New York.

Late Art Period

In the 1970s, the artist began working on two murals for the state of Florida. He furnished a studio in Ybor City, and in 1976 he commissioned a house and studio from architect Gilbert Flores. This new workspace in Aripeka allowed him to provide more space for his large canvases.

At this time he also became involved in politics. Thus in 1974, James lobbied the government for better legislation to protect artists’ rights and protested against the Vietnam War. All of his paintings reflect political concerns as well as a fascination with technology, modern innovations and their sometimes contradictory relationship with nature. By 1980, Rosenquist began to be concerned with environmental issues, as evidenced by his series depicting local tropical flora. And by the 1990s, his fascination with space and time had become a dominant theme. In addition to painting, Rosenquist also created large-scale prints. His 1992 work, Dust of Time, is considered the largest print ever created, measuring 86 x 420 inches.

Most Famous James Rosenquist Artworks

  • “The Elected President” (1960–1964)
"The Elected President" (1960–1964)

President elect by James Rosenquist is one of the artist’s most striking works. It includes a looming portrait of John F. Kennedy, borrowed from a 1960 presidential campaign poster. Contrasting this portrait with depictions of middle-class wealth and consumerism, Rosenquist asks the contestant in the election race what he offers to society.

  • “Marilyn Monroe I” (1962)
"Marilyn Monroe I" (1962)

Screen icon and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was a beloved subject of many pop-art artists, and she figures prominently in more than fifteen works in the museum’s collection. James Rosenquist inverted and fragmented her image and superimposed part of her name on it. He also included a fragment of the name of the Coca-Cola brand in its signature font upside down. The juxtaposition of Monroe with this famous logo suggests that she is as iconic an example of American popular culture as the ubiquitous soft drink.

  • “F-111” (1964)
"F-111" (1964)

The F-111 was painted in the middle of one of the most turbulent decades in U.S. history. The fighter-bomber depicted in the painting was in the planning stages at the time, and Rosenquist understood its mission, both economically and militarily, to create jobs for Americans and support the nation’s gross national product. He characterized the image of the painting as an airplane flying through the anti-aircraft fire of the economy.

  • “Industrial Cottage” (1977)
"Industrial Cottage" (1977)

The painting comments on the close proximity to heavy industry in contemporary America. James Rosenquist asks the question, “Is that what makes America great?” He points directly to poor urban planning that places industrial parks next to public parks and to the intrusion of machine age technology into residential neighborhoods.

  • “Nasturtium Salad” (1984) and “Passionate Flowers” (1990)

Lush depictions of plant life are interspersed with women’s faces. The precise signs of this human intervention hint at mechanical and technological progress, which, like these images, is often at odds with nature.

  • “Welcome to the Water Planet” (1987)
"Welcome to the Water Planet" (1987)

This is also Rosenquist’s ecologically conscious view. The artist describes the lush floral and water works as “ecological and political paintings” that address the fragility of life on earth.

  • “Flamingo’s Capsule” (1970)
"Flamingo's Capsule" (1970)

Throughout his career, Rosenquist has shown a curiosity about space, technology and scientific theory. That fascination is present in this work.

A continuation can be found in his colorful and dynamic “Speed of Light” series, including “Stowaway Looking Outward at the Speed of Light” (2000), installed in Gallery 208.

  • “House of Fire” (1981)
"House of Fire" (1981)

This is perhaps one of his three most important graphic works.

Speaking of “House of Fire,” Rosenquist said: “This painting is a metaphor for the country.”

The “House of Fire” painting is a triptych of three images that differ in order, balance and proportion.

The heart of this remarkable work is a bucket of molten metal, showing the contradiction between the industrial element and domesticity.

The Artist’s Work Today

Sadly, in 2009 a fire destroyed Rosenquist’s home and studio in Aripeka, Florida, destroying much of his work stored there. Among the pieces destroyed was a huge mural that had been 133×24 feet in size when completed.

Many of the artist’s paintings are now commissioned by corporations or bought by private collectors. Each composition is full of meaning and finished with the highest possible quality, regardless of its purpose.

James Rosenquist’s Influence on Contemporary Culture

The artist has influenced many contemporary artists. For example, Richard Prince’s photographic use of advertising images demonstrates James Rosenquist’s influence, as do Marilyn Minter’s advertising-inspired paintings. Rosenquist’s legacy is reflected in the art of Jeff Koons, whose striking works often echo the vast scale and inclusion of popular imagery and advertising characteristic of Rosenquist paintings. His importance to contemporary art is unquestionable, but the artist himself did not even consider whether he would be remembered after his death.

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