James Rosenquist a Great American Painter died on Friday.
During my time at the Guggenheim and as well at MoMA, I met plenty of celebrity artists, but I remember James Rosenquist with an enduring fondness. It was not just the enormity of his fame and those colossal paintings that required a legion to hang….not to mention incredible engineering and cleverness, it was the man….maybe later I can say something more insightful or meaningful but for now, I will say what comes to mind and heart immediately. How can I do anything else?
James Rosenquist F-111. 1964–65, oil on canvas with aluminum, 23 sections, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Rosenquist is most well-known for his iconic oil painting F1-11 (1964-65) made up of twenty-three panels and measuring a heroic 86 feet. An incisive expression of the American crisis of war and consumerism, this panoramic contemporary interpretation was inspired in part by Claude Monet’s expansive Water Lilies painting was (also in The Museum of Modern Art’s collection.)
It is Rosenquist’s intellect, grace, and strength of character that stay with me, not to mention the dazzling color of those beautiful paintings. And the fact that he did not get angry with me when I seemed to lock his old-fashioned 19th century elevator between the studio and apartment. I am certain young people inept at this and that came and went through his life, but the quiet kindness stays with me.
There were other things that I think are worth mentioning. That year I met over 100 colleagues from all over the world, and experienced the subtle differences in terms of women’s status in the profession, sometimes as a central player, more often an observer, an interloper in new places.
And yet I came away from my work with the artist with the sense that he had a real respect for his female colleagues, myself and others close to him as well. I maintain this is unusual, particularly in a person of his generation, after all a sort of institutionalized or cultural sexism still had managed to retain a stranglehold over the art world. This is important because it demonstrates that this was an artist who was not only self-aware, but whose virtuosity with the brush was also paired with a seriousness, intellectual rigor and engagement.
Even more exciting I remember looking at new paintings in the studio, wet with paint, that surface so resplendently flamboyant, while my colleagues and I listened to his narrative about the picture and the process. Not one to ride on the heels of star-studded fame and masterworks, the artist painted furiously even then.
And the stories…amazing tales of mid-century America, artists, and strangeness. I forget a lot of these nights in foreign countries from my long sojourns abroad for exhibitions, but I shall always remember the nights spent with my colleagues and friends in Germany on the Rosenquist tour, and of course the artist, and his amazing way in the world.
James Rosenquist November 29 1933 – March 31 2017
Good bye James Rosenquist, with loving comfort to your family. It was a beautiful thing to have known you and worked with you and those around you.