Friday, April 04, 2008

Art Space Talk: James Rosenquist

James Rosenquist is an acclaimed American artist and is considered to be one of the key figures in the Pop Art movement. James has received numerous honors, including selection as "Art In America Young Talent USA" in 1963, appointment to a six-year term on the Board of the National Council of the Arts in 1978, and receiving the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in 1988. In 2002, Fundacion Cristobal Gabarron conferred upon him its annual international award for art, in recognition of his great contributions to universal culture.

Since his first early career retrospectives in 1972, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, he has been the subject of several gallery and museum exhibitions in the United States and abroad. His work has continued to develop in exciting ways and is an ongoing influence on younger generations of artists

Sun Li, Oil and acrylic on canvas, 74.3 x 48 in. (188.6 x 121.9 cm.), 2005. Courtesy Acquavella Galleries. Painted at Aripeka, FL

BS: James, can you tell us about your early years as far as art is concerned? Perhaps you could reflect on some of your early academic experiences?

JR: I can remember my studies at the University of Minnesota. I studied under Cameron Booth. Cameron was my first teacher and he had studied with Hans Hofmann after World War I. Cameron focused on dynamic picture making, including Cubism-- ideas about form and fragments. I guess you could say that I was interested in how to make a dynamic picture plane.

It was shortly after that time that I won a scholarship at the Art Students League and went to New York. While at the Art Students League I studied with George Grosz, Will Barnet, Morris Kantor, Robert Beverly Hale and so on. I devoted my time to studying composition. I soon went broke though. I was actually homeless for a short time.
Fix- Speed of Light, Oil on canvas, 68"x 50" (172.7 x 127.0 cm), 2000. Private Collection. Painted in Aripeka, FL.

BS: How did you get out of that rut?

JR: A friend helped me get a job. I worked as a chauffeur and bartender for a year and then went back to sign painting. I had painted billboards for a short time in Minnesota with General Outdoor Advertising, so I was already a union member. I painted all sorts of things during that time. I ended up quiting after a couple of fellows fell to their death. I'd worked on a scaffold 20 stories up myself and after their deaths it dawned on me that the job was dangerous. I guess you could say that it put things in perspective.

BS: Your personal artwork has roots in billboard painting, can you discuss that?

JR: I'd say it is the other way around-- my billboard painting has roots in my artwork. Billboard painting did not teach me how to be a painter. However, you do learn a lot from painting those big billboards. You have to think about light, color and everything. I was also faced with different tasks each morning. For example, I'd come to work in the morning to find various items on my desk-- everything from a tomato to a pack of cigarettes-- that I was supposed to put in the right place on a billboard sign in Times Square. I'd have to take these items and change their scale in order to fit them into a diagram. I learned how to render things well.

Joystick, Oil on canvas 17' x 46; (518.2 x 1402.1 cm), 2003. Collection of the Artist. Painted in Aripeka, FL.

BS: You've talked about your academic years and early work experiences... what about your early paintings?

JR: During those years the art schools were still teaching people how to express themselves by throwing paint. I was not interested in splashing paint around or slapping a canvas. I wanted to do something different. So I started thinking about fragments and how I could make them so that the things closest to you would be recognized last. I wanted the space to spill forward instead of receding back like all painting had done in the past. It always seemed that paintings are like a window that we look into-- I was not interested in that. I wanted my pictures to have teeth-- to jump out at the viewer.
Time Blades - Learning Curves, Oil on canvas, 102 x 258 inches (259.1 x 655.3 cm), 2007

BS: James, you are known as a Pop artist. Is this a label that you are comfortable with?

JR: They called me a Pop artist because I used recognizable imagery. The critics like to group people together. I didn't meet Andy Warhol until 1964. I did not really know Andy or Roy Lichtenstein that well. We all emerged separately.

BS: James, did you admire any specific artist during those years?

JR: I really enjoy de Kooning. When I was a student everyone was copying him. I liked his involvement with paint and color. I also liked him because he did not give a damn-- he was not self-conscious. Students today don't realize that de Kooning was really a rough and tough type of guy. Today people talk about underground artists-- well, at that time de Kooning was THE underground artist. He enjoyed a good drink and a good joke-- or should I say bad? He once told me that he liked my spaghetti painting and went on to say that it was "sexy".
Intellect Seeking a Worm Hole, Oil on canvas with mirror, 66 x 59 inches (167.5 x 149.9 cm), 2007

BS: Let us jump forward to present day. As you know, there has been a move toward combining high technology with painting. Some artists are utilizing video art or other technological sources, such as the Internet, within the context of their painting. Is that something that you are interested in-- the use of high technology alongside painting... or as painting, digital painting for example?

JR: I'm not all that interested in the Internet. I don't use the Internet as a source for my work and I doubt I ever will. This goes for other types of high technology as well-- such as virtual reality. I'm just not interested in it. I guess you could say that I like things simple. I like painting to be simple. It fascinates me to create beautiful paintings with the simplest means. I'm more interested in the way that people paint with sticks, cloth, or brushes instead of high technology.
IDEA, 3:50 A.M., Oil on canvas, 63 x 49 inches (160 x 124.5 cm), 2007

BS: So what are paintings to you in general?

JR: Paintings are memories. Memories of the painter who painted them. Memories that can be shared as well. Paintings are things to remember things by. For example, I see my work as auto-biographical. It is all auto-biographical.

BS: So do you ever have any regrets when a painting leaves your studio?

JR: I've actually bought some of my paintings back for thousands more than what they were originally sold for. Letting go is part of this game. You never really let go though, do you...

BS: Aside from the images that you create, what do you like about the action of painting-- the motion and movement itself?

JR: I like the physical connection of painting with a paintbrush. It is fun to paint these large paintings with one arm. It is a workout. I enjoy that use of energy. In many ways my paintings are about energy-- both in how they are created and the image itself.
Glare - Speed of Light, Oil on canvas, 6'6"x 6" (198.1 x 182.9 cm), 2001. Private Collection. Painted in Aripeka, FL.

BS: James, do you have any advice for art students? In your opinion, what should a younger artist focus on? What should he or she be wary of?

JR: Fine Art is not a career - commercial art is. You may be so talented that no one will buy your work until after you're dead, like Vincent van Gogh. Focus on things that happened to you that you can't figure out.

BS: Any advice for artists in general?

JR: As I said, focus on things that happened to you that you can't figure out. Go back to your youth, go back to when you were very young and remember the things that happened to you, things that were very odd and peculiar.

BS: Finally, what are you working on at this time?

JR: I've been working on putting together an upcoming show for Berlin. I've practically been living in my studio recently.
You can learn more about James Rosenquist by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm a huge fan of Mr. Rosenquist and I believe I will be a fan of this blog as well!

Anonymous said...

Great post! Rosenquist work is brilliant. I have never been a fan of modern art. I have thought mostly, that it was an insult to the intelligence of the viewer. Childish scribbles and throwing paint around isn't art. It's childish scribbles and thrown paint! Rosenquist is the exception. A truly talented and innovative person.

Anonymous said...

Like a fine wine, Rosenquist continues to deliver.

Dianne Bowen said...

kudos for the interview. I usually watch ovation for artist bio doc's so this is a favorite blog.

Dianne Bowen said...

thanks for posting, I love reading them, a little peak into the artists thoughts on art and their own work. always interesting.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant. Love Rosenquist and your blog. Nice work

Anonymous said...

When I saw Rosenquists name on the blog I thought Nah, it can't be the Rosenquist..But it was. I really enjoyed the interview from another artists perspective. His comment about looking into ones past to see those things you can't figure out is an interesting take...May give it a try. Thanks for this interview and for bringing highly recognized artists into the mix...not that I don't respect the ones that are already here. I do.

Stan Kurth said...

Excellent interview! I love Rosenquist's advice for the young artist: "Fine art is not a career..."

Ken Joslin said...

I love his work.