In the latest issue of Art & Antiques Magazine, writer Carter Ratcliff profiles the art of the late abstract painter, James Rosenquist, exploring the ways he juxtaposed the figurative and non-figurative to create his own unique style of abstract art.
Born in Grand Forks, N.D., in 1933, his artistic skill was recognized early and he won a scholarship to the Art Institute of Minneapolis. Over the next few years, encouraged by his teachers, he was awarded a grant to study at the Art Students League, in Manhattan. During his summer vacations, he found work with a crew painting billboards. By the end of the ’50s, he had become the head painter at the Artkraft-Strauss Sign Corporation. And he had gotten to know Claes Oldenburg, Chuck Hinman, and other young artists in downtown Manhattan.
It was during this time that Rosenquist struggled to invent an original style of abstract painting before finally settling on the methods that would eventually define his style. As Ratcliff points out, "Then, as the 1960s began, he suddenly merged the parallel but incompatible paths he had been following. Hey! Let’s Go for a Ride (1961) juxtaposes a soft-drink bottle with a smiling face. Transposing advertising images from a billboard to a stretched canvas, Rosenquist crops and layers them with such jolting verve that he loosens their representational moorings. To put it the other way around, as critics of the period often did, these bluntly rendered representations read almost as abstractions. This collision of the figurative and the non-figurative brought Rosenquist into the first rank of the Pop artists, alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein."
Always pushing the envelope of high-key color and abstract intricacies, Rosenquist went on to create such important works as The Facet (1978), The Stowaway (2001), F-111 (1964–65), Multiverse You Are, I Am (2007), Voyager-Speed of Light (2001) and Time Stops the Face Continues (2008).
Speaking for himself and all the rest of us, the artist once said, “Trying to figure out where you float, that’s always the question.” Immersion in Rosenquist’s sprawling fields is like immersion in the world’s—indeed, the universe’s—flow of energy, and it is always a surprise when you figure out, if only for an instant, where the swift currents of his imagery have taken you.
Rosenquist's work is currently on display in Made in U.S.A.: Rosenquist/Ruscha at the Hillstrom Museum of Art at Gustavus Adolphus College. The exhibition is on view to the public through April 23rd.