James Rosenquist began his career in art as a billboard painter and in some ways never stopped. Born November 29, 1933, Rosenquist brought the billboard to Pop Art, creating images such as F-111 (above, from 1965) , which measures a whopping 10 by 86 feet, that literally fill entire rooms. In his paintings, Rosenquist generates a collage effect, bringing together such diverse elements of society as a United States military jet, a beauty parlor hair dryer, and spaghetti in an attempt to comment on the commercialization of American life. While Andy Warhol celebrated commercialism by blowing up Campbell’s Soup Cans and Brillo boxes, Rosenquist called it into question by juxtaposing the sleek design of jets dropping bombs with that of the salon hair dryer.
In I Love You With My Ford (above, from 1961) Rosenquist takes on the American love affair with the automobile, redefining auto-eroticism. In this sideways triptych, a Ford automobile’s grill ranks at the top of the hierarchy, just above the woman in the middle with her lips sensually parted. The grey tones of these two top panels give way to the reddish orange spaghetti beneath—the mass-produced foodstuff for American bodies swallowed as readily as the claims of the advertising that links cars, along with almost every other product, with sex. Rosenquist enlarges the spaghetti to such a degree that it ceases to be recognizable as food, become instead almost a network of worms writhing unappetizingly. By showing the pyrrhic quality of the spaghetti, Rosenquist hopes we’ll also see the falseness of the American Dream as advertised on TV.
Rosenquist remains active today, still thinking and working big. His Time Dust (above, from 1992) may be the largest print in the world, measuring in at 7 by 35 feet. The difficulty of just finding images of his work that I could post without losing all sense of scale reminded me of the uniqueness of Rosenquist’s work. Some artists work on a grand scale with little ideas, trying to generate the illusion of importance purely by size. Jeff Koons easily falls into that category. The giant works of Rosenquist, however, require a grand scale, just as Michelangelo’s frescos did in the Renaissance. Both artists aimed at nothing less than presenting a world view. Where Michelangelo took from the Bible, Rosenquist took from the modern Bible of advertising, placing products in his personal Last Judgment on American consumerism, dwarfing us in their presence to show just how diminished our individual lives have become in the vast void of materialism.