James Rosenquist, a first wave pioneer of Pop Art has died in New York. He was 83. He began his career as a sign-painter but with his special talent for painting photographic imagery soon found a place in history with contemporaries Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Tom Wesselman, to become an integral part of the 1960s New York Pop Art scene.
“They called me a Pop artist because I used recognisable imagery. The critics like to group people together” – James Rosenquist
Rosenquist spent many years painting large-scale billboards. His industrial technique and ability to depict product imagery were the perfect fit for what was an emerging movement. He transformed those skills to his fine art practice, moving from an Abstract Expressionist-style to painting mostly representational photo-realism, often juxtaposing a splice of images — such as food, electrical goods and newspaper clippings in a flat Surrealist collage style.
Rosenquist’s best known work came in 1965 which was a room-sized mural protesting US military intervention in Vietnam. The 86-foot long “F-111” depicts the fuselage of fighter plane that covers 23 panels along with imagery commercial products like a hair dryer and tinned spaghetti.
The artist once described the piece, which was shown at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2012, as questioning “the collusion between the Vietnam death machine, consumerism, the media and advertising.”
James Rosenquist (November 29, 1933 – March 31, 2017) was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and grew up as an only child. His parents, Louis and Ruth Rosenquist, of Swedish descent, were amateur pilots and moved from town to town to look for work, finally settling in Minneapolis. His mother, who was also a painter, encouraged her son to have an artistic interest. In junior high school, Rosenquist won a short-term scholarship to study at the Minneapolis School of Art and subsequently studied painting at the University of Minnesota from 1952 to 1954.
In 1955, at the age of 21, he moved to New York City on scholarship to study at the Art Students League. “They [art critics] called me a Pop artist because I used recognisable imagery. The critics like to group people together. I didn’t meet Andy Warhol until 1964. I did not really know Andy or Roy Lichtenstein that well. We all emerged separately.”
The artist passed away Friday at his home following a long illness, according to his wife.