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. His art is relevant for today’s media saturated world. One might call him a prophet who foresaw digital distraction. An endless stream of imagery causes this. The effect is not as strong in Rosenquist’s prints. Here it seems more a reverberation or quote of the painting’s impact. In the etching/aquatint ‘Gravity Feed’ (101 x 48 cm, 1978) the artist uses the profile of a tyre as kind of a colorful ‘paintbrush’. Tyres are some of the most prominent picture elements of Rosenquist’s paintings.

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. His memoir ‘Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art’ from 2009 is worthwhile, too. I found it truly entertaining, down to earth, to the point and in no way distracting.

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