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>> Man in the Middle - Menschenbilder
>> Haiku master of the American psyche
   >> James Rosenquist: A Retrospective
   >> Interview with James Rosenquist

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Kaplan: In reference of General Electric?

James Rosenquist: "President Elect", 1960-61/1964
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne/Centre de Création Industrielle, Paris
Photo courtesy of James Rosenquist

Rosenquist: Yes, because I remember visiting a big GE plant and on the desks they had a lot of little American flags. That was a long time ago, in the sixties. And I asked: "How come you have all these American flags?" and they said: "Well, we give 'em to our employees to see which ones of them are American or not." So, then I thought, circles of confusion with General Electric.

Kaplan: How has your sense of color changed from your early work in the sixties? What do you know now that you didn't know then?

Rosenquist: Color can be a lifelong study. What it really boils down to is, I use oil paint to paint with, and I use about 8 colors that bring out all the colors in the universe, except for infrared red and ultraviolet. I can replicate anything you might imagine in those eight colors. I've got it all covered, and that's after a long period of painting. I can mix any color. I mix them in a malted milk mixer, and if I’m going to paint a certain color, sometimes I go splash, splash - and there you are! Perfect. A thing has one color, and the shadow may be quite another color. Basically, the main thing to remember in color is never use black paint, or hardly ever. Use compliments: red and green or orange and ultramarine blue. It can be a very esoteric color or it can be the color of your trousers there.

[ Rosenquist zeroes in on my knee.]

Rosenquist: What color is that? That's not tan or anything. That's yellow and blue and some white. You'd think that's tan or an earth color or you could say what color is that?
[Rosenquist zeroes in on my shirt. ]

Rosenquist: That's red, yellow, and a touch of green.

Kaplan: How is the Guggenheim retrospective different from the show's other venues?

Rosenquist: New paintings will be included, but ten important early works won't be in it because of the terrorist threat and high insurance.

James Rosenquist: "Dishes", 1964
Collection of Virginia and Bagley Wright
Photo courtesy of James Rosenquist

Kaplan: When you were first labeled a pop artist, you were categorized with Lichtenstein and Warhol, especially in the Lawrence Alloway show at the Whitney Museum, American Pop Art. You were each doing different work, but the art historians relegated you to a certain category, because they held that both you and Lichtenstein were applying commercial art techniques to your work, for instance. Do you agree with this?

Rosenquist: No, no, let me qualify that. Look at the term Abstract Expressionist. Look at the difference between de Kooning, Barnie Newman, Mark Rothko, and Franz Kline and so on. They are totally different artists, but they're all called Abstract Expressionists. Why are they labeled like that? Just to label a group of people who are energetic! So a group of people in my generation are energetic, and we're labeled pop artists. So then, as time progresses, the artists go way off on different points and in different directions, and they're not alike at all.

Kaplan: It must have infuriated you at the time, and even still.

Rosenquist: The revisionist criticism of Pop Art is stupid. Young critics who saw my work when they were maybe 9 years old are trying to tell people what I've done.

[Rosenquist laughs.]

James Rosenquist: "House of Fire", 1981
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, George A. Hearn Fund and Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1982.90.1a-c
Photo courtesy of James Rosenquist

Kaplan: What was it like to have the F-111 painting installed next to Nicolas Poussin's  Rape of the Sabines at the Met?

Rosenquist: I thought it was really ridiculous, because they said that what I was doing was historical painting. And I didn't think about that at all. I didn't see that connection, somebody else did. I think it was Tom Hoving's idea, that notion. Henry Geldzahler was there at the time. I don't think he liked it.

Kaplan: Tell me more about your idea of peripheral vision.

Rosenquist: Peripheral vision. If you surround yourself with color or whatever you look at, you question self-consciousness. What you see is due to the peripheral color coming through the sides of your eyes. At the same time as I did that F-111 painting, the Metropolitan Museum of Art had a 19th century show with maroon wallpaper covering the walls. Paintings hung on top of each other, up to the ceiling. You really couldn't see the paintings in all this maroon wallpaper. It was that idea. Well, you could say that it was like surround sound or surround color. I could control what the color was, instead of having nature saying what it is. Peripheral vision is a continuum, even from French Impressionism. Things look a certain way because of the light and the color of the day and the whole thing. If you do an experiment and cover all the walls with different colors, then a certain color may not really be that color if you took it outside and showed that color alone.

James Rosenquist: "U-Haul-It", 1967
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase, with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Lester Avnet, 68.38a-c
Photo courtesy of James Rosenquist

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