James Rosenquist, painter

Sunday, August 09, 2009 | |

Painter James Rosenquist lost his beachfront home and studio to a Florida fire in April 2009. Fifteen new canvases were destroyed, leaving an "emotional vacancy." At 75, he reflects upon his life from Aripeka, the coastal town on the Gulf of Mexico where he's just "Jim," the guy in shorts down the bar, and not a world-renowned pop artist. He has been working out of Tampa Bay for over 32 years, having set up shop in Ybor City after the cigar factories had long gone. In 2004, the Guggenheim held a retrospective of his work.

In New York, my first job was painting Hebrew National salami signs on the Flatbush Extension in Brooklyn. I painted signs in Times Square. I had to paint good enough to sell.

My only mistake, if there has been a mistake, is not judging professional people correctly. You think they're good, and they're terrible. That's a mistake.

What you do is at night, you go out drinking at bars with Bob Rauschenberg until late, wake up with a hangover, start working at about 11 o'clock, work until 7 or 8 o'clock at night, rent a tuxedo, go to an art opening at a museum, drink again, wake up with another hangover and keep doing that. I did that one time seven days a week for seven months in a row.

Now, I can see why some fellow artists aren't more well known or not known at all. Seems to me they're not outgoing enough. I don't know how to put it. They're like turtles that stay in their shell and think that something is going to knock on their shell and take them out of there. That doesn't happen.

If a person can see an advantage, do it. Recongnizing opportunity, that's what you have to do. There are opportunities galore, but, whoosh, they'll just go right by.

I'd like all of my paintings back, so I can apply for a grant from the Ford Foundation to study my own life.

Read the entire article here.