The present work is a precursor to Rosenquist’s 1987 Water Planet paintings, which featured a series of lusciously painted floral and aquatic works, cut with human forms that reveal themselves through the surface of the canvas. The Water Planet paintings reflected an important moment in the artist’s stylistic and personal development. During the early 1980s, Rosenquist began to utilize a new crosshatching technique to fracture the picture plane of his compositions. Just as Marcel Duchamp had attempted to break the picture surface with a painted tear in Tu m’ (1918), and Lucio Fontana had continued with a physical tear in the canvas by carpet knife, so too did Rosenquist attempt to move beyond the two-dimensional picture plane and into other spaces and ideas. The crosshatching technique allowed the artist to incorporate an abundance of visual imagery onto the surface by superimposing various themes in intersecting planes. The effect of this technique was a “visual flash of consciousness” that could communicate= a more complex and multi-layered narrative to the viewer (Sarah Bancroft in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, October 2003 - January 2004, p. 126).
The development of this unique style also corresponded with a significant event. Rosenquist had purchased land in Aripeka, Florida in the late 1970s, constructing a home and studio with the architect Gilbert Flores. Taking this as his permanent residence, he expanded his studio space to accommodate the large-scale paintings he was completing for the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York in 1983. Untitled reflects on the vibrant flora of Florida’s natural wetlands. The painting is a lily cut by fragments of two big-eyelashed blue eyes and what appears to be a floating ear in the lower left corner. “The plant life suggests open possibilities invoking a respect for nature, its overwhelming power, and its inherent beauty. The wide-open eyes and hints of flesh and lips peek through in shard-like configurations that intersect the dominant floral imagery. The precise markings of the human interference allude to a mechanical age and technological progress that, like the images, are sometimes at odds with nature. Rosenquist presents us with the paradox of these two worlds that inform our present human experience and are both a celebration of natural plant forms and a prescriptive elegy to the desecration of Earth’s natural habitats” (Michelle Harewood in James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, p. 204).
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