Rosenquist was one of the greatest original American Pop Artists, whose work stands alongside Warhol and Lichtenstein as a commentary on mass media and consumerist culture.
Unlike his most of Pop contemporaries, Rosenquist came from a background of both fine art (having studied art at the Art Students League in New York City in 1955) and commercial advertising painting. He emerged separately as an artist to the American Pop Art movement.
Before attending art school, Rosenquist had earned a living as a billboard painter in Minnesota, which included travelling to paint gas station signs from North Dakota to Wisconsin. After art school (where Rosenquist had studied mainly with abstract artists), he continued as a sign painter in New York, painting large scale billboards across Times Square and Fifth Avenue. A highly dangerous job, he quit when he witnessed a friend die, falling from the scaffolding whilst painting.
By 1960, Rosenquist was starting to concentrate on his own personal work in his studio rather than commercial projects. This developed into his unique style - large scale, billboard style paintings which show a range of seemly unconnected mass media images, blurring into each other, over-whelming the viewer. This Surrealist juxtaposition of different images addresses the subconscious and omnipresent power of marketing, political thought, and news manipulation in the the media. His work represents the Swinging Sixties turn to consumerism, whilst also predicting the 21st Century. Rosenquist also dealt with politics, science and environmental issues in his work.
A calling card of Rosenquist’s work is the separation of canvases, or images, into sections - often three, alongside images which appear off centre or cut off. This is a reference back to his billboard days, where large signs would have to be separated into sections to be painted, often cutting images in half.
With quotes like the below, Rosenquist saw the future of marketing and advertising. Of all the Pop Artists, his work seems to have predicted a social media obsessed world more than any other.
"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."