“History is remembered by its art, not its war machines.” –James Rosenquist
The art world has been mourning the loss as well as appreciating the brilliance of artist James Rosenquist who passed away on April 1. Here a few friends, admirers, photographers and critics pay their respects.
“A blue-collar, prairie Baudelairean, Rosenquist was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1933 and grew up on the move with his father, who was an airplane mechanic, among other things, and his mother, a sometime pilot who encouraged his interest in art. His art education, at the University of Minnesota and then at New York’s Art Students League, coincided with jobs painting gas stations in the Midwest and billboards in New York. In 1956, while struggling to be a credible abstract painter, he fell into a charmed circle of emerging artists that included Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Ellsworth Kelly. In 1960, he rented a studio that had been vacated by Agnes Martin on Coenties Slip, way downtown near the East River piers; Kelly and the painters Robert Indiana and Jack Youngerman worked nearby. He made his first distinctively Pop paintings while unaware of similar work by Warhol and Lichtenstein, who were unaware of him and of each other. That was a moment of Zeitgeist like branched lightning.” –Peter Schjeldahl in the New Yorker, on he occasion of Rosenquist’s retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, 2003
“In 1960, he settled into a loft at 3-5 Coenties Slip, on the East River waterfront in Lower Manhattan, a building where a number of other artists – Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, and Jack Youngerman – were already living and working….Before he met Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol or saw what they were up to, he was already making art that was very much related to theirs. ..Rosenquist has talked about the terror of the bare studio. He saw some of the artists around him fixing up their studios, …and he began to wonder whether they would ever have the courage to start producing work.
He told himself he was not going to fall into the same trap, so in order to have something to look at in his studio he began collecting, from magazines and other sources, advertisements and photographic reproductions that he spread out across the floor and pinned up on the walls. He arranged them in certain ways, as he tried to decide what he was going to paint. Eventually, the clippings were incorporated into collages that he made in preparation for the paintings.” –Carter B. Horsely, essay from 2003–4 retrospective
“James Rosenquist was a first-generation, first-rank Pop Artist. He got there first and fast. In 1960, Rosenquist, a former sign-painter (as was Warhol and backdrop painter Gerhard Richter), was making neo-Dada semi-abstraction. He got fed up, saying, “Whatever I did, my art wasn’t going to look like everyone else’s.” In a sensational stylistic turnaround, and the equivalent of inventing fire, Rosenquist went from his generic nonrepresentational work to making, in one try, the seven-by-seven foot black-and-white, photographically based realist painting Zone. Even today you can see how it was a new visual-painterly being on earth. A fragmented painted collage of what looks like a woman from advertising and a cut-up grid of some drips or liquid, Zone looks absolutely like advertising, and at the same time, it is not advertising. Thus it is neither a known idea of advertising or of painting. Zone becomes what Donald Judd referred to as a specific object — it is neither one thing or another, but something new. Whatever he did, Rosenquist’s work appeared brand-new back then as it does now. He influenced several generations of artists who looked to popular culture and employed other-than-art techniques.” –New York magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz
“I truly loved James Rosenquist. Even though he was one of the mythic giants of Pop Art, he was so damned human, so down to earth, never any airs, just the ever present glinting chuckle of someone continually taking delight as the world unfolded around him. I knew Jim first because he was the only major art historical figure who regularly schlepped his own art supplies from Pearl Paint. No assistant there for that, he worked prodigiously so he was always needing to restock and was a regular figure there, carting bags of brushes and paint tubes up and down the steep tenement stairs. Always friendly and approachable, we first struck up a conversation on the first floor, the industrial, non art part of Pearl. He was laughing and joking around with old Aaron who had been there forever, trying to get him to ditch work with him, buy a bottle of whiskey, put a baby nipple on it and spend the rest of the glorious afternoon passing it back and forth on the grimy sidewalk on the backside of the store. And I was invited.
This alone was enough to endear him to me forever, but some years later, be blew up in my estimation many times over. I had been invited to London for the Royal Academy’s blockbuster show covering 30 years of Pop Art from every country that contributed anything to the movement. Both Jeff Koons and I had been asked to speak at the accompanying symposium as the progeny of Pop. This was when Jeff’s star was rising at a vertiginous rate and he was newly hooked up with Ilona Staller, better known as La Cicciolina. It was a huge event and there were dozens of Paparazzi flashing bulbs left and right.
I ended up hanging out with Rosenquist who was wearing only his characteristic Aloha shirt. We watched as Jeff and La Ciccololina, decked to the nines, made not one, but four grand entrances to encore barrages of flash bulbs. Rosenquist seemed oblivious to all this, he just chattered excitedly, completely ignored by the paparazzi, about how he couldn’t believe they were having this show, how funny it all was, because when they made those paintings, they called it disposable art, and here we were now he said with complete mirth, in this grand place with all the reverence celebrating stuff that was supposed to be thrown away. I was in disbelief, my head swiveling from yet another of Koons and La Cicciolina’s grand entrance, and this for a show he was not even in, to Jim tickled pink just to be present in his old Hawaiian shirt, and he one of the great instigators of it all, laughing merrily at the absurdity.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, he was a truly protean and brilliant artist who regularly blew me away, and who’s legacy we are not yet even close to being able to measure.” –artist, Ashley Bickerton
“He was one of the most down-to-earth artists I have ever had the honor of photographing that completely defied his standing among the giants of late 20th century art history.” –photographer, Todd Eberle