There aren't a lot of the first wave of Pop Artists left with us. Yeah, we've got a few around, notably Robert Indiana, Claes Oldenburg, and Jasper Johns, and quite a few of the Hockney/Apple-level Brits, and today we have Tanja Playner making a splash, but the biggest names are all gone. Lichtenstein, Warhol, Rauschenberg, Hamilton, Marisol, all gone. Add to that list James Rosenquist, one of the most impressive of them all, and perhaps the only painter in 1960s POP who really got the whole painting thing.
Rosenquist's work is an incredible intersection of photo-realistic imagery and Schwitters-esque composition. He would take images from popular culture and re-create them within a sort of painted collage of images and text that may or may not play off of one another. This technique is ultimately breaking when you try to tie things together, as if the subject of any painting is not the execution of the painting (as it had been in Abstract Expressionism) but in the forcing of perspective. While images may not suffer the same orientation, they are all to be considered within relationship to one another, which means we have to accept that an image 180 degrees opposite another is presenting the same directionality. That aspect of Rosenquist's work is what hits me the hardest; there is no up to many of them, and if you spin them and allow it to randomly come to a single point of reference, there is no difference.
Except, perhaps, for F-111.
The F-111 fighter was the hot new thing burning up the skies of Vietnam. Here, Rosenquist has painted it, supposedly in near life-sized scale, using so many markers of the POP Art style, from Lichtenstein's Ben Day dots to Warhol's silkscreening, hints of Johns and Indiana. That resulting image is then over-laid with mundanity. A young girl under a conical hairdryer, a tire tread, a mass of spaghetti, light bulbs. These are all placed to give an idea, that the plane is flying through the most bland airspace, as if it were just another product of the basic world, the kind of thing that would be sold in commercials on TV. The amount of soaking in that had happened due to the war dominating the nightly news made the plane another element in the popular culture, and Rosenquist plucked it out of the air, painted it, and hung it in a gallery as an image every bit as imposing as Monet's Waterlillies.
Christopher J Garcia - Curator, Fan Writer, Podcaster, and a guy who just loves art.