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James Rosenquist Answers Some Questions for the Press
Part of "F-111" by James Rosenquist, 1964-5. Museum of Modern Art, NY.

BASEL.- Samuel Keller, director of the Basel Art Fair, presents James Rosenquist with great excitement as an authentic living legend. Born in North Dakota in 1933, he is one of the founders of Pop Art and one of the last representatives of this movement alive today. James Rosenquist, who along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, Rothko and Pollock, started his career painting advertising posters won world wide acclaim in 1965 thanks to his painting F-111. In 1972 he was honoured by the Whitney Museum with his first retrospective. Since then, he has exhibited from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow to the Guggenheim in Berlin. Rosenquist travelled this year to Basel to present his huge (40 X 8 meter) mural. It was commissioned to commemorate the 50th anniversary signing of the Declaration of Human Rights by Eleanor Roosevelt at the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 14, 1948. Eight years later, the restoration of the palace where it was supposed to hang is still incomplete and the work was never paid for. Now it is on offer for $9 million, reported Bloomberg.

The following interview was given to Spain´s El País:

Q: Can you explain the work of art exhibited in Basel?

A: The United States Government sent me to Paris in the spring of 1998. The mural was first planned for the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, but due to technical problems it could not be installed there. Nobody ever saw this work of art until today since it has been stored away for the past eight years. Samuel Keller saw a reproduction and put his efforts to present it before the public.

Q: Let´s talk about your origins.

A: My father worked in the airline industry, but his plans to be successful in the industry were cut short when in 1941 the Japanese happened to bomb Pearl Harbour. My parents always stimulated me toward adventure and to seek my own independence. When I was a young boy I lived without electricity and running water and had to invent my own games and entertainment. I suppose that that stimulus toward the imagination had an influence in my later work. I have a sixteen year old daughter: Lilly. When I was her age I drove tractors and smoked cigars. Without a doubt, the times have changed a lot.

Q: And how does art come arrive?

A: One day my mother said to me: “Jim, you are always drawing. Maybe this can earn you money, no? And it was then that I answered an ad that was looking for people to paint gasoline advertising murals. Then I met the person who influenced me the most in my life: Cameron Boothe, an artists that had studied in Vienna with Hans Hoffman. He was the one who motivated me to move to New York and study art.

Q. You seem to have a special relationship with that city.

R. I was starving at the beginning and t olive I was forced to be the driver of a wealthy family. My Jewish friends said: What is New York? The answer was: “Put the rich on one side, the poor on the other and conflict in between”. New York is a city of mixes where in reality nothing mixes. It is the city of opportunity…if you are lucky. I had the fortune of having a series of lucky encounters.

Q. And then we arrive at the birth of pop art.

R. Yes. The idea for pop art came to my mind while I was painting huge murals for a whiskey brand.

Q. All art history books coincide and consider your painting from 1965 F-111 as the foundation for your career.

R. F-111 was a fundamental piece, but while I was working on it I didn´t think about it. At that time I was more interested in the peripheral view. I was interested in colors and forms that appear on the sides without us being conscious. That airplane was also a metaphor of America, since that industry allowed workers to own homes, have two cars and send their children to college. But it also immersed us in the crazy armament race against the USSR. At that time 50,00 dollars were paid for the work of art. Abit later it was sold for 5 million dollars to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it still hangs. Many consider it anti war painting and they are not wrong.

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