We were saddened to hear news over the weekend that James Rosenquist passed away on 31 March 2017 in New York City.

Born 1933 in rural North Dakota, Rosenquist first made a name for himself as an artist in New York in the 1960s and is now recognised as an important figure in the development of Pop Art. Informed by his experience painting commercial products on billboards in the 1950s-60s, Rosenquist’s paintings were often enormous in scale and combined blown-up versions of everyday subject matter and pop culture imagery sourced from newspapers, television, comics as well as advertising.

I was totally bombarded by advertising, which I didn’t care for but it was something I did. I think that is probably my relationship to what is now called Pop Art…

I learned how to square things up from any size to billboard, one foot squares or two foot squares on a big sign, and that probably started me thinking about collage. I would take disparate images, put them together and try to make another sense out of them. It was almost like the idea of listening to radio and thinking about something in the abstract.[i]

James Rosenquist air brushing mylar for lithography collage element for 'Skull snap' from his 'Welcome to the water planet' series, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, 1989
James Rosenquist air brushing mylar for lithography collage element for ‘Skull snap’ from his ‘Welcome to the water planet’ series, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, 1989 Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

From September 1988 to December 1989 and again in 1992, Rosenquist worked with Ken Tyler at his Mount Kisco workshop to produce the large–scale paper pulp series Welcome to the water planet and related works House of Fire and Time Dust. These works expressed concerns about environmental degradation and the destructive impacts of global consumer culture and militarism. For this ambitious project a stucco spray gun – typically used for rendering a house or distributing foam insulation – was adapted to allow the artist to distribute brilliantly coloured paper pulp across large areas in a way that related to his use of an airbrush for his paintings.

The tremendous innovation of Rosenquist’s paper pulp projects is documented in behind the scenes videos which can be viewed here.

James Rosenquist assisted by Kenneth Tyler using a pattern pistol to spray red coloured paper pulp through plastic stencil on newly made paper pulp sheet in paper mill with hydraulic platen press in background, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, 1989. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler
James Rosenquist assisted by Kenneth Tyler using a pattern pistol to spray red coloured paper pulp through plastic stencil on newly made paper pulp sheet in paper mill with hydraulic platen press in background, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, 1989. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

Tyler recalled ‘the great joy of working with Jim’ as ‘a mixture of hard work, long hours, good camaraderie and a lot of storytelling.’ As he explained in a 2006 interview:

[Rosenquist] had the rare ability to be one of the workers in the workshop and also the artist. I found that Jim and I had in common many mid-west work ethics and we enjoyed tools, machinery, invention and the challenge of making things with our hands.

There wasn’t any task in the workshop that Jim would not take upon himself to do when the moment came. We pushed each other in the collaboration with mutual friendship and respect. After all, you wouldn’t last doing this serious labour for more than 100 tense days if you were not having fun, and fun we did have.[ii]

Rosenquist’s generous spirit and committed work ethic was also fondly remembered by TGL workshop staff. In a 2015 interview, TGL workshop manager John Hutcheson described Rosenquist as ‘a real pleasure to work with’, reminiscing about the artist’s kinship with the TGL team, as a ‘worker bee’

every morning he’d be there at opening time with all the other [workshop staff] ready for the door to unlock with his cup of coffee, dressed in his working clothes.[iii]

John Hutcheson and James Rosenquist working with mylar to prepare lithographic elements for Rosenquist's ‘Time Dust’, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, October 1991
John Hutcheson and James Rosenquist working with mylar to prepare lithographic elements for Rosenquist’s ‘Time Dust’, Tyler Graphics Ltd., Mount Kisco, New York, October 1991. Photographer: Marabeth Cohen-Tyler

 

To find out more about Rosenquist and his work at Tyler Graphics, visit the links below:

James Rosenquist on the Tyler collection website

Candid photographs of Rosenquist at Tyler Graphics

Welcome to the Water planet exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, 2006

Rosenquist in the National Gallery of Australia’s Behind the Scenes exhibition 2015

James Rosenquist Space dust 1989, paper pulp, planographic, collage, National Gallery of Australia, purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © James Rosenquist. Licensed by VAGA & Viscopy, Australia
James Rosenquist Space dust 1989, paper pulp, planographic, collage, National Gallery of Australia, purchased with the assistance of the Orde Poynton Fund 2002 © James Rosenquist. Licensed by VAGA & Viscopy, Australia

[i] James Rosenquist, interviewed by Dr Jane Kinsman, 2006. Transcript available at: http://nga.gov.au/Rosenquist/Transcripts.cfm?View=2

[ii] Kenneth Tyler, interviewed by Dr Jane Kinsman, 2006. Transcript available at: http://nga.gov.au/Rosenquist/Transcripts.cfm?View=2

[iii] John Hutcheson, interviewed by Frank Cantor, 2015