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Spotlight Artist: James Rosenquist



Oil and spray enamel on canvas

7' 9" x 6' 1/4"

Gallery label text from MoMA:

"Screen icon and sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (1926–62) was a favorite subject of many pop artists, and she figures prominently in more than fifteen works in the Museum's collection. Here, in a tribute to the actress created soon after her death, Rosenquist inverted, fragmented, and partially obscured her image with a superimposed portion of her name. He also included a segment of the brand name "Coca–Cola," rendered upside–down in its trademark script. In pairing Monroe with this famous logo, Rosenquist was suggesting that she is as iconic an example of American popular culture as the ubiquitous soft drink."


James Rosenquist, (born November 29, 1933, Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S.—died March 31, 2017, New York City, New York), one of the seminal figures of the Pop art movement, who took as his inspiration the subject and style of modern commercial culture. Through a complex layering of such motifs as Coca-Cola bottles, kitchen appliances, packaged foods, and women’s lipsticked mouths and manicured hands, Rosenquist’s large canvases and prints embody and comment on the dizzying omnipresence of the consumer world.

Rosenquist grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota, and at age 14 he won a scholarship to study at the Minneapolis School of Art (now the Minneapolis College of Art and Design). He continued art studies at the University of Minnesota from 1952 to 1954. In 1955, having received a scholarship to the Art Students League, he moved to New York City. All the while, Rosenquist supported himself by working as a billboard painter, later using the leftover billboard paint to create small abstract paintings in the manner of the reigning New York school style. It was not until 1960 that he abandoned Abstract Expressionism to directly engage the techniques and iconography of his commercial work.

Rosenquist enjoyed the effect of using a billboard style of painting on smaller canvases, where the images became softly blurred and their literal quality was lost in the close-up orientation and the cropping of the image. He also played with shifts in scale and technique—employing, for example, grisaille and full colour—and juxtaposed a number of disparate motifs in a single canvas. The completed painting would be a disjunctive display of various pop images that presaged the postmodern strategy of pastiche, as in the later work of David Salle. Rosenquist’s array of signs sometimes suggested an overriding sexual or political theme. In the 1960s he made more overtly political work, epitomized by the monumental wraparound painting F-111 (1965), a canvas in 51 pieces that places American goods against the backdrop of a military fighter-bomber.

Although he was early described as a Pop artist, Rosenquist did not like the label.

What united us [by which he meant other “Pop artists” such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann], you might say, was dread of the drip, the splash, the schmear, combined with an ironic attitude toward the banalities of American consumer culture. If anything, you might say we were antipop artists.

In addition to painting, Rosenquist contributed to the renewal of printmaking in the United States when in 1965 he and a number of other young artists explored the process of lithography at Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island, New York.

In April 2009 Rosenquist’s house, office, and studio in Florida were completely destroyed by fire. His memoir Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art, written with David Dalton, was published in 2009. (exerpt from

Installation view of James Rosenquist: F-111 (1964-65) at MoMA. Oil on canvas with aluminum, 23 sections. 10 x 86’ (304.8 x 2621.3 cm). Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alex L. Hillman and Lillie P.Bliss Bequest, both by exchange. © 2012 James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photo by Jonathan Muzikar

"A special installation recently opened at MoMA of James Rosenquist’s F-111, an 86-foot-long painting that the artist designed to extend around all four walls of the Leo Castelli Gallery, at 4 East 77 Street in Manhattan. Rosenquist began the painting in 1964, at a decidedly tense and tumultuous moment in this country, as the Vietnam War steadily escalated abroad and anti-war activism gained momentum at home. The subject, the F-111 fighter-bomber plane, was in development at the time as part of a military initiative that ended up costing $75 million; funded by American tax dollars, it was meant to be the most technologically advanced weapon in the U.S. Air Force’s arsenal. Rosenquist painted the body of the plane to span the work’s 23 panels, interspersed with spliced-in images of commercial products and references to war—fragments of what he has called “the flak of consumer society.” Through this expanse of colliding visual motifs, F-111 points to what the artist has described as “the collusion between the Vietnam death machine, consumerism, the media, and advertising.”

Links and Readings

Essential Questions

1. What was the CONTENT of Rosenquist's work?

2. Define the following terms: 1) New York School, 2) Abstract Expressionism, 3) motif, 4) iconography, 5) pastiche, 6) grisaille, 7) disparate, 7) banal

3. Explain what Rosenquist learned from painting billboards; how did his career as a billboard painter influence his painting style?​



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