Sad news today. Just found out that James Rosenquist passed away at 83 in New York City today.
New York City will kill you if you let it. He died on March 31.
There are times you wish all of life was an April Fool’s joke.
One of the new series I was planning on this blog was about my inspirations. It’s fitting to have James Rosenquist lead the procession, albeit under sad circumstances.
Take a look at any of my paintings since 2010 or so and you will find Rosenquist laughing in the corner somewhere. Not literally.
James Roesnquist died. But no, He’s not a Where’s Waldo figure in my paintings.
Even though he was an artist with a sense of humor. Hell, he even appeared in Oliver Stone’s "Wall Street."
James Rosenquist Lurks
I came to it quite by accident. I started using a photocopier to layer images on one another, holding sheets from the feeder delaying their entrance.
I then used the layered lines of these graphic designs to make large scale collage paintings of pop imagery. Sometimes I used transparency film.
The goal was to combine expressionism and abstraction with pop art. To give a layered experience.
I wanted people to come back to my works again and again. To be attracted at first.
But to have a deeper experience each time.
I finished the first one and thought “Great, now you’re doing a bad impression of Rosenquist.”
Beginning With Swimmer
Before I realized I’d been copying Rosenquist unintentionally, he already was everywhere in my work.
I greatly admired his paintings and they showed up in my poetry for years. This all started with a visit to the MASS MoCA in its inaugural year.
The MASS MoCA seemed personal to me. They opened in 1999 and I was just finishing getting my undergraduate degree at UMASS Boston in Art & English.
I was studying under my great mentor and world renowned art historian Paul Hayes Tucker. He whet my appetite for modern and contemporary art and I was ravenous to experience and learn from the masters.
In addition, my mother, grandmother, and grandfather all had worked at the Sprague Electric campus at one point or another.
Re-purposed to house the MASS MoCA now, my first visit was personal, inspiring, and changed my appreciation for Rosenquist.
His monster work “The Swimmer in the Econo-Mist”
There are patterns to some of my works, for instance, “What’s the Difference Between,” from 2014, which intentionally copy the compositional patterns of “Swimmer.”
Art Critic's Confession: When I think of Picasso’s Guernica, I am more inspired by Rosenquist’s variation in “Swimmer.”
The shift from an ink bottle swirling into the Picasso is burned in my visual memory.
Poetry and Rosenquist
As a result of all that information, Guernica shows up a lot in my poems. And it is usually the Rosenquist version I’m thinking of.
The swirl from “Swimmer” shows up everywhere. I believe the Rosenquist work is his contending with all of art history, or human history, in a single piece.
I wrote a poem about Smithson’s Spiral Jetty and Rosenquist showed up.
Serra’s Torqued Ellipses? The same.
Chasing The Master
But once I started unintentionally copying him in my visual work, things changed even more for me.
I often say I am trying to “paint past people.” Masters do this from birth.
Or at least much faster than me. Monet saw Courbet and BANG.
Jeff Koons has done this with every single one of his contemporaries, including Rosenquist.
My pace is much slower. I have had periods of Pollock, De Kooning, Johns, Rauschenberg, and now Rosenquist. I can’t get by James Rosenquist.
I left the MASS MoCA with an exhibition catalogue that led me to thinking a lot about the role of Leo Castelli in art. This led to my long germination process before writing the internet novel “Art Official.”
I have since tore through Rosenquist’s memoirs "Painting Below Zero" and found them to be fascinating.
I remember him talking about toothpaste. That every year the companies come out with better toothpaste.
But it’s not better at all. It’s just got more filler in it they charge more for.
New and improved.
Falling for James
Many people know that Rosenquist worked so big, in part, because he had been trained as a billboard painter in New York City.
There’s an old story someplace about how his buddies in the business kept falling off of scaffolding to their deaths.
Can anyone think of bodies floating through the air in NYC and not think of 9/11?
I haven’t been struck this hard when hearing of a contemporary artist’s death since I found out Kenneth Koch passed. Rosenquist was a hero to me.
He retired from painting billboards, scored a show with Leo Castelli and sold it out.
The last time I was in NYC I went to the MoMA just to see Rosenquist’s F-111. I was charmed by the people taking selfies.
I was charmed by Rosenquist’s use of texture with the metal plates. The photo above is from that trip.
He built a beacon in contemporary art and younger artists like me.
He’s rocketing in a jet plane now. Safe travels, James.
Following Up on James
Beyond Rosenquist's impact on my visual art and poetry, I haven't been able to get enough.
I'm saddened by his passing.
Have questions about Rosenquist? As always, contact me and we can talk art and poems.