James Rosenquist – Distraction, not Abstraction

James Rosenquist – Distraction, not Abstraction

Ever felt dizzy looking at a billboard size painting by James Rosenquist? Can’t control what element to focus on: the car, the tyre, the airplane, the president, the spaghetti? It might be the depiction of a state of mind, as Peter Schjeldahl wrote in the New Yorker 2003: “At his best, Rosenquist is a maestro of distraction, delivering it in exact, potent doses. The effect feels broadly significant. This art comprehends the typical worldly experience of the people who come to look at it. To be undistracted, in modern times, requires selective, blinkered attention. Rosenquist rules that out.”

This effect makes Rosenquist’s work timeless and relevant for today’s media saturated world and workplaces. One might call him a prophet who foresaw digital distraction, which is mostly caused by an endless stream of imagery. The effect is not as strong in his prints, here it seems more a reverberation or quote of the painting’s impact, like in the etching/aquatint ‘Gravity Feed’ (101 x 48 cm, 1978) where the profile of a tyre – which is one of the prominent picture elements of Rosenquist’s paintings – is used as kind of a colorful ‘paintbrush’. One of the limited prints (number 55/78) was on sale for a quite reasonable price  in the Modern International Art Auction of catawiki:

With James Rosenquist, one of the last protagonists of original Pop Art has passed away March 31, 2017, age 83. Read the comprehensive obituary in the New York Times of April 1, 2017, and his memoir ‘Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art’ from 2009. I found it truly entertaining, down to earth, and to the point – in no way distracting.

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