“Popular culture isn’t a freeze-frame; it is images zapping by in rapid-fire succession, which is why collage is such an effective way of representing contemporary life. The blur between images creates a kind of motion in the mind.”
James Rosenquist is best known for his colossal collage paintings of enigmatically juxtaposed fragmentary images. These images, brought together and enlarged overwhelm the viewer, through their sheer scale which makes them difficult to discern at first glance. They are mostly fragments of enlarged, photo-realistic images done in the advertising style of the emergence of consumer culture in America during the 1960’s. This is no accident, Rosenquist started out his career as a billboard painter, and was among this first of the classic pop-artists to directly address the persuasive powers of advertising, highlighting the omnipresence of ads.
This week’s Work of the Week! WOW! is Rosenquist’s 1, 2, 3 Outside
1, 2, 3 Outside was originally painted in 1963 in a manner that denies each of the three panels immediate recognition due to the scale of each fragmented image, so enlarged that they are each removed from their original context. This is where Rosenquist’s fascination with subliminal persuasion through advertising becomes evident. Each image is artistically packaged based on defining characteristics and incorporates as much visual imagery as possible onto the picture plane. Together, however, they form a bombardment of information without any kind of visual relief.
The imagery is on such a monumental scale that it gives the impression that it is coming straight at the viewer and suggests a strong socio-economic commentary, implying that the work itself is a starting point for deeper reflection. “I wanted the space to be more important than the imagery,” James Rosenquist said. “I wanted to use images as tools.”
Rosenquist used generic imagery, no brand names, and created a new kind of picture. He described the effect: “People can remember their childhood, but events from four or five years ago are in a never-never land. That was the imagery I was concerned with—things that were a little bit familiar but not things you feel nostalgic about. Hot dogs and typewriters—generic things people sort of recognize.” Rosenquist reminds us to observe more intently and become more self-reflective, taking our time with the experience of looking.
As such, 1, 2, 3 Outside exemplifies Rosenquist’s contribution to Pop art: grand scale, fragmented composition that encompass an amalgamation of consumer imagery and evokes visual memory flashes of consciousness.