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James Rosenquist
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
New York, New York
A founder of the Pop Art movement known for his large works incorporating images of consumer products, celebrities and everyday life, painter, printmaker and sculptor James Rosenquist’s art began with abstraction and after decades of Pop Art most recently has evolved back to more abstract images. Born in 1933 in Grand Forks, N.D., after several moves his family settled in Minneapolis in 1944. A teenage painting won a scholarship to Saturday art classes at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He earned an associate degree in studio art from the University of Minnesota in1954. Rosenquist worked for a commercial painting contractor during the summer of 1953 and after graduation spent a year painting billboards. In 1955 he received a scholarship to attend the Art Students League in New York City, where he studied for a year. After working as a personal assistant for a year, Rosenquist shared a studio with other artists but made a living for three years as a commercial sign painter, also painting store window backdrops. In 1960 he quit commercial painting and took studio space in a building filled with other young artists on a small street called Coenties Slip to pursue fine art. Abandoning abstraction, Rosenquist began to create works with images of people and consumer products painted with the techniques he learned as billboard painter. His new style came to the attention of art dealers and collectors, leading to his sale of a painting in 1961 to Robert C. Scull (1917-1986), who would become a major patron. All the works in Rosenquist’s first solo exhibition at the Green Gallery, New York, in February 1962, were sold. Later that year Rosenquist’s works were included in two seminal Pop Art exhibitions, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York and the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles. As his reputation grew, he was commissioned to create a mural for the New York State Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and his works were included in 1963 exhibitions at the Museum of Modern art and the Guggenheim Museum. He made his first published print in 1962. His second print was for Walasse Ting’s (1929-2010) 1964 book of poetry and lithographs, 1¢ Life. Rosenquist recalled that he created a drawing that Ting copied and turned into a color lithograph (Glenn, p. 7). His first European solo exhibitions were held in Paris and Turin in 1964, the year he began working on lithographs at Universal Limited Art Editions’ studio on Long Island and was a visiting lecturer at Yale University. Rosenquist began working on his best-known work in 1964, the controversial F-111, an 86-foot-long painting of the fighter-bomber with images of nuclear mushroom cloud, consumer products and a child sitting under a hair dryer shaped like a missile’s warhead superimposed over the airplane. Displayed at the Leo Castelli Gallery and The Jewish Museum in New York in 1965, it was purchased by Robert Scull and shown in eight major European museums through 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1968 and in London in 1969. Rosenquist’s first museum retrospective was held in Ottawa’s National Gallery of Canada in 1968. His regular exhibitions at the Leo Castelli Gallery and other venues continued, but his work was interrupted by an automobile accident in Florida in 1971, seriously injuring Rosenquist and his wife and son. He incurred large medical debts. Rosenquist had difficulty in selling works for a few years, particularly after a poorly-received exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art that year, scathingly reviewed in the New York Times. He continued painting and making prints and rebounded within a few years. He rented his first Florida studio in Ybor City (near Tampa) in 1973. In 1976 he built a house and studio in Aripeka, on the Gulf Coast north of Tampa, which he expanded in later years. In 1977 he purchased a building in Manhattan’s TriBeCa for a studio there. He continued painting and printmaking in the 1980s, with numerous exhibitions in America, Asia and Europe. Another personal disaster occurred in 1993, when a tropical storm flooded his Aripeka home and studio, damaging or destroying numerous art works and his archives, but he rebuilt and continued working. In 1996 the Museum of Modern Art acquired F-111. Rosenquist’s many awards include honorary doctorates from the University of Minnesota, Bard College and the University of South Florida and appointment to the National Council on the Arts. Rosenquist faced another disaster in 2009, when a wildfire destroyed his Aripeka home and studio. Invigorated by a 2010 commission for a painting for a Las Vegas medical clinic, he showed new paintings at New York gallery exhibitions in 2010 and 2012, including Geometry of Fire (2011, 11 x 25 ft.), depicting flames and exploded automobile hubcaps, his response to the fire. Rosenquist died in his New York City home on March 31, 2017 after a long illness. (TNB 5/2014) Selected bibliography: Hopps, Walter and Sarah Bancroft. James Rosenquist: A Retrospective. Exhibition catalog. New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2003. Glenn, Constance. Time Dust. James Rosenquist; Complete Graphics 1962-1992. Exhibition catalog. New York: Rizzoli, 1993.