With his works housed in institutions across the globe – from Tate to MoMA – Rosenquist has long been regarded as a trailblazer within the Pop Art movement. Born in North Dakota and raised in Minnesota, Rosenquist’s artistic impulse eventually drew him away from the flat plains of the Midwest to New York. Once in the city, he took on the role of a commercial artist, painting sprawling billboards above the bustling streets of the metropolis. The large-scale nature of his billboard works ingrained Rosenquist with painterly exactness, as well as drawing his attention to the symbolic power of the objects in the advertisements. Whilst at home, Rosenquist experimented on a much smaller scale, finding solace in small abstract drawings. In 1960, Rosenquist adopted a full-time career in fine art and set aside his commercial work. However, the style that Rosenquist entered the art scene with was an amalgamation of his private and public work. His small abstract drawings were blown-up to billboard size, whilst incorporating objects of consumer culture into these abstract works, embracing the material utopia onto his canvas. At the turn of the century, Rosenquist’s paintings began to speculate on the more fundamental questions of existence, on sight, memory and time.
Time Stops but the Clock Disappears is a bold example of both Rosenquist’s craftsmanship and his constant reinvention of style and form. Divided in the middle with surgical exactness, Rosenquist presents a striking dichotomy between chaos and enigma. A host of abstract colours uncoil on the upper half of the canvas, winding and warping in the characteristic style of Rosenquist’s later works. Assimilated into the canvas, a motorised clock rotates at high speed. The numbers blur in the motion, adding to the multifaceted distortion of the work. The lower half depicts the clock melting away, laden with pink hues, evoking the moment the sun descends into the sea at dusk. Time melts away as the eye moves down the canvas, Rosenquist captures its ephemeral nature exquisitely. The artist's depiction of the clock calls to mind Salvador Dalí’s The Persistence of Memory (1931), a “meditation on the collapse of our notions of fixed cosmic order” (Dawn Adès, Dalí, London 1982, p. 145). Dali’s coupling of time and abstraction is used by Rosenquist to new heights; the clocks bend and twist, spin at high speed, dissipate into the depths of the canvas.
Rosenquist said of his works: “There's so much we know nothing about. Here we are in our natural environment and the mysteries of the universe are all around us. I want to paint these mysteries” (James Rosenquist cited in: James Rosenquist: The Hole in the Middle of Time and the Hole in the Wallpaper, New York 2010, p. 9). Time is a universal theme, affecting all of us. Thus, his use of the mirror provides us with two options: to look at the painting or to look at ourselves. Rosenquist reflects the cosmic mysteries of the world back on the viewer.
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