Post-World War II America was a time of plenty, of growth, of limitless possibility, and of selling those grand ideas to anybody with a newspaper subscription, a working radio, or a pair of eyes. The last of these was particularly pertinent in the realm of billboard advertising, a form of selling predicated solely upon the catching of one’s eye as one barrels cross-country at 60mph. Size and image appeal are requisite elements of effective billboard advertisement. In the absence of the former, nobody will notice your pitch; in the absence of the latter, nobody will purchase your product.
Thus, when James Rosenquist embarked on his billboard painting career, the young artist could hardly have known that he was cultivating (tacitly or otherwise) a capacity for large-scale artistic production and a dialed-in sense of product pitching. Compounding the significance of this notable confluence was a blossoming pop art movement of which Rosenquist (among several others) would become a part, and with which he would be irrevocably associated.
It has been said by media theorists and observers of human culture that an artist’s responsibility is to render apparent that which might otherwise go unseen. Put simply, the charter of the artist to create a sense of construct awareness within the minds of those who engage with their work. Such awareness need not always stem from the profound, as James Rosenquist would go on to demonstrate across the breadth of his considerable career. Simply re-framing the familiar is often enough to invite an element of the disruptively incongruous within an unsuspecting mind.
James Rosenquist Artwork
The shaping of symbolic narrative is a hallmark of Rosenquist’s artwork, as his consciously disfigured amalgamation of what is considered popular with what is considered fine often told a story in its own right. At a minimum, such contrasts within the content would compel the beholder to re-evaluate much in the way of preconceived notions and “understandings” of reality and of the world around them. What is popular is also what is ubiquitous; the omnipresent figures and concepts within a culture are curiously the figures and concepts which go unquestioned, unexamined, unconsidered within the context of daily life. They simply are, which for many is simply enough. Not by the reckoning of James Rosenquist, for whom the ubiquitous was most deserving of his artistic scalpel.
In an era where the ability to broadcast a commercial sales pitch across the breadth of our republic was first being realized, Rosenquist positioned himself well ahead of the dubious phenomenon and invited the culture to more closely scrutinize those elements of American cultural (and consumer) experience which came to increasingly dominate the American psyche.
Rosenquist is sensitive culturally, which renders him profound artistically, and he has benefited from this professionally. His legacy is one of cohabitating with fellow pop art luminaries, but his creative journey was decidedly independent, placing him at an intersection of artistic evolution and societal self-awareness. A shrewd understanding of consumerism and the public’s desire to be awakened from the dream of an ongoing sales pitch would create in Rosenquist’s ambitious prints, drawing, and paint works an enduring resonance. More than a half-century of impressively consistent professional output has yielded a body of work which staggers the mind both for its sheer quantity and for the cultural narrative it relates when taken it chronologically. The latter half is what is often known as the “American Century” was interpreted thoroughly by the pop art movement of which James Rosenquist was heavily a part.
Still active in what is now his ninth decade, Rosenquist’s edition prints are worthy of examination, given their continued cultural relevance and tremendous quality. Ever thought provoking and endlessly inventive, the work of James Rosenquist is what all art strives to be: transcendent.
To learn more about James Rosenquist or to view his available works, connect with the team at Hamilton-Selway Fine Art today.