“I’m the one who gave steroids to Pop art”
James Rosenquist’s larger than life brand of Pop is not the literal Pop Art of Warhol, Lichtenstein or Indiana. Rosenquist’s work, seemingly irrational owed a debt to Surrealism through large-scale, mysterious pictorial combinations. As his works evolved, he continued to employ a juxtaposition of elements and materials, creating complex compositions as a means of exploring design and narrative. His work from the 1980s through to the end of his career is still on steroids – vibrantly colorful, abstract compositions that explore perceptions of time and space, in addition to our environment.
In the mid-1970s, Rosenquist moved his studio from Manhattan to Aripeka, Florida where his aesthetic was affected by the flora and fauna of his new surroundings. His interests shifted from the culture of consumerism to an exploration of humankind’s place in the environment. The lusher paintings of the ’80s suit their time with their candied colors. Rosenquist, in short, is one of the few former pop artists whose work continues unabatedly to have something to say. However, unlike most political art, Rosenquist’s work seems non-polemical at first, and that is the source of its power.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is from the series Welcome to the Water Planet – Sky Hole.
The series came to be after Ken Tyler of Tyler Graphics Ltd (TGL) invited Rosenquist to work at his new purpose-built workshop at Mount Kisco in upstate New York. Rosenquist, who started his career as a billboard artist, was always drawn to larger than life size compositions, accepted the offer when Tyler promised him that he would provide handmade paper as big as the artist could imagine. For the project, Tyler devised a huge deckle box to make hand-made papers about 60 by 120 inches, including a giant printing press for lithography and etching measuring 120 by 240 inches.
Tyler had a deep seeded interest in hand-made papers and started experimenting with Pulp Paper projects in the 70’s, working on projects with Rauschenberg, Kelly and Hockney, among others, and by the time work started with Rosenquist, he had brought paper works to new heights in terms of scale, color and texture.
This blended perfectly with James Rosenquist’s desire to develop his idea of an image of slow-heating popcorn tied together with his concerns about the state of planet Earth – the only water planet known in existence in the universe at the time. Rosenquist included imagery that evoked the colorful and sensual riches of the earth and brilliant flora from Florida, set within a wondrous star-lit universe. ‘We all live on the water planet’, the artist stated in an interview. Rosenquist’s series of paper works were intended to act both as a celebration and a warning to what might happen to our planet.
The first idea that came to form for Sky Holewas birds of paradise approaching the water planet. The image was deconstructed into its component parts, made with curved lines of cross-hatching that would then be printed in color lithography. These lithographic elements form a collage that is laid on the brilliantly colored paper pulp sheet. The separate colors were made by filling different moulds with paper pulp placed on top of the large sheets of handmade paper. The method, was one of trial and error.
At the initial stages of the project, the method of using metal moulds, or ‘cookie cutters’, resulted in problems with translating Rosenquist’s designs into paper form due to inconsistencies of the pulp paper. But, always seeking to experiment and innovate, Tyler was able to perfect the system while Rosenquist developed the templates for each piece. For the large areas of graded color, impossible to achieve using mould shapes, Tyler proposed the use of a spray gun, used for applying stucco to walls in houses, which could spray the gradations of color across the pulp on which the lithographic elements were collaged. The technique was successful and resulted in a look of apparent spontaneity and effortlessness, contrary to the hours of preparation and a technique born of experimentation.
The collaboration between the artist and master printmaker created revolutionary works, Rosenquist, himself noting that ‘The wonderful thing about paper pulp is the color. If you take a magnifying glass, you’ll see a little fuzz rising like smoke off the surface of this handmade paper – like doing giant watercolors and letting this watercolor seep together at the perfect moment …’
Additional James Rosenquist artwork available:
1, 2, 3, Outside, 1972