Screen Test is a vibrant example of that style. Portrayed on billboard scale, Rosenquist's Hollywood starlet preens for the camera from behind her stylish shades. As the viewer, we are invited to sit in the director's chair, and determine her casting. It is a moment of anticipation, excitement and uncertainty. The magnified intensity of every element is mesmerizing, creating an overwhelming sense of a specific moment within a wider narrative. This evocation of intrigue, of a story half-portrayed, is typical of Rosenquist who wanted to create, "a new kind of mysterious painting" (the artist quoted in Exh. Cat., London, Haunch of Venison, James Rosenquist, 2006, p. 108).The artist’s synthesis of eclectic stylistic precedents is abundantly evident in this work. We might notice the influence of Roy Lichtenstein in the portrayal of a narrative fragment, and the graphic, almost cartoonish, style of Robert Rauschenberg and Richard Hamilton. For Rosenquist, unlike other titans of Pop art, handpainting continued to be an integral part of his practice throughout his career. As Walter Hopps notes, “Another factor that sets Rosenquist apart from the other Pop artists is the degree to which he has relied on handpainting. He has rarely used any mechanical means—the stencils or silkscreening that Lichtenstein and Warhol favored. He is a superb painter in a very traditional sense, producing very untraditional images” (Walter Hopps, “Connoisseur of the Inexplicable” in Exh. Cat., New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (and traveling), James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, 2003-2004, p. 8). Furthermore, Rosenquist’s training as a billboard painter—which in turn became his trademark as an artist—is evident in his graphic approximation of figurative details: the starlet's bright-blue eye is perfectly illustrated behind the lens of her glasses, only to morph into a silver expanse that creates a wonderful collage-like effect, and suggests the 'silver screen.' This punchy mode of depiction gives the work that sense of instant impact that is surely derived from advertising images.
In 1971, Rosenquist, his wife, and their son were injured badly in a tragic car crash, but by 1975 the artist emerged from the other side of this life-threatening collision. “After the ’71 car accident, Rosenquist recounted the sense of fragmentation and flurries of color that rushed through his mind in that moment” (Exh. Cat., New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., James Rosenquist, 2014). This sense of fragmentation, whirls of color and renewed sense of confidence floods Screen Test.
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