Imagery that captured the time and stemmed from a multiplicity of ideas defined the accessible practice of American artist James Rosenquist, born in 1933 in North Dakota. “I started thinking about my paintings as tombs, le tombe, tombs,” he once said. “Therefore, if you stumbled upon one of my tombs, it would still work.” This was most famously exemplified by F-111 (1965), a 23-panel painting depicting a bomber jet, retro hair dryers, spaghetti and the tell-tale mushroom cloud of warfare that debuted at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1965 in the mist of the divisive Vietnam War.
A pioneer of the reconfiguration of boundaries between ‘low art’ objects (banal, every day items) and ‘high art’ objects (paintings, sculpture) in New York in the mid-1950s, Rosenquist has been considered alongside seminal artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. However, he expressed a fundamental difference in his aesthetic philosophy by omitting logos and brands in favour of more evocative reproductions of popular culture. Despite embracing an amalgamation of simplified, but still highly recognisable, imagery largely pulled from the media, Rosenquist’s direct, uncomplicated approach to presenting readable imagery stemmed from his beginnings in commercial billboard painting and deviation from Abstract Expressionism that dominated the East Coast scene.
Represented by Acquavella Galleries (New York) until his death and previously Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac (Paris), Rosenquist’s works can be seen at institutions such as Tate Modern (London), LACMA (Los Angeles) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). Additional reading on his life can be found in his 2009 autobiography, Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art.