James Rosenquist was one of America’s most influential Pop artists, known for his enormous compositions relating to consumerism, politics and science.
Early Life and Education
James Rosenquist was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota in 1933 to parents of Scandinavian descent. The family moved often, his father working at a series of jobs in the aviation industry. Rosenquist’s mother was a pilot and amateur painter, who encouraged Rosenquist’s artistic talents.
The family moved to Minneapolis when Rosenquist was eleven. He won a scholarship in junior high school for four Saturdays of art classes at the Minneapolis School of Art, attended the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, graduated from high school and went on to study art at the University of Minnesota.
After leaving the University of Minnesota with an associate’s degree in studio art, Rosenquist painted billboards in Minneapolis and Saint Paul for the General Outdoor Advertising company.
In 1955, Rosenquist got a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York, where he studied for a year. He earned money by painting billboards and, in his spare time, attended drawing classes with Claes Oldenburg and Henry Pearson.
In 1960, Rosenquist quit his work as a billboard painter, after two fellow painters fell from scaffolding and died. He rented a studio at 3–5 Coenties Slip, near the workspaces of Robert Indiana, Ellsworth Kelly, and Jack Youngerman, and committed himself to a career in fine art.
He had his first solo exhibitions at the Green Gallery in 1962, but it was his enormous F-111 painting at the Leo Castelli Gallery in 1965 that propelled his career.
Rosenquist began to get commissions and the focus of his work began to change from a focus on pop culture to politics and the relationship between art and science. Rosenquist was appointed to National Council on the Arts soon after he lobbied, as an influential artist, for federal protection of artists’ rights during the 1970s. Besides creating large, paint and collage murals, Rosenquist was a skilled printmaker and designer.
Rosenquist married textile designer, Mary Lou Adams, in 1960. The couple had a son, John. The marriage ended in divorce in 1975. He married his second wife, Mimi Thompson in 1987, and they had one child, a daughter, Lily. In 1976, Rosenquist bought land in Aripeka, Florida, and built a home and studio on the property. He traveled between his studio in Manhattan and his studio in Florida for more than thirty years.
In 2009, a suspicious fire destroyed Rosenquist’s home, studio, office and other buildings and consumed 62 acres of his property. Among the works the artist said he lost was a mural commissioned by the government of France that measured 133 feet high by 24 feet wide. James Rosenquist died in New York on March 17, 2017, at age 83. Both the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa held memorial services to honor him.
James Rosenquist’s work is part of the permanent collections in major public and private institutions, and has been featured in solo exhibitions at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, The Menil Collection, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Denver Art Museum, Tretyakov Gallery, Museum Ludwig, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, and other national and international institutions.
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