James Rosenquist put Tampa on the art world map, literally. His 1974 lithograph Tampa-New York 1188, created at the University of South Florida’s printmaking workshop, Graphicstudio, brought Tampa to the notice of first-rank museums, collectors, critics and historians.
The legendary pop artist, who lived here for decades and died earlier this year at 83 after a long illness, is remembered fondly by many folks in the Tampa Bay area for his big heart, immense creativity and caring friendships.
The exhibition "James Rosenquist: Tampa," at the USF Contemporary Art Museum through Dec. 9, celebrates his memory and the art he produced at USF’s pioneering printmaking studio.
With approximately 60 works on view, the exhibition centers on the prints he created at Graphicstudio as well as at three Tampa Bay studios: Flatstone Press, Pyramid Arts and Topaz Editions. It also includes two works by Tampa-based artist Theo Wujcik and one by Mark Stock.
For many locals, however, Rosenquist’s biggest imprint was his presence.
"He made himself at home here," said Patrick Lindhardt, who printed many editions for him at Graphicstudio and at his own studio, Flatstone Press. "People would just gather around him."
"He was a water spout for us," said the show’s curator, Peter Foe, pointing to Rosenquist’s 1971 lithograph Water Spout. "He was a catalyst, an activator."
Rosenquist, who was born in the wide open spaces of North Dakota in 1933, made his way into the art history books with the rise of pop art in the 1960s. Along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, he made use of the flood of images that crowded everyday life.
"Being a child in America, you are being advertised at," he said in a 1987 interview. "It’s like being hit on the head with a ball-peen hammer. You become numb. You’re constantly hit upon."
As a struggling young artist, Rosenquist worked as a billboard painter in New York in order to make ends meet. That was before he caused a worldwide sensation in 1965 with his room-sized masterpiece, F-111. The F-111 was a U.S. fighter bomber, and the painting was a protest against the Vietnam War and the overwhelming consumerism at home.
The artist and his work were celebrated with one-man exhibitions from New York to Stockholm to Moscow. Critics and historians of the late 20th century include him among the key artists of the time.
People often ask what makes the difference between the artists who get in the history books and the artists who are forgotten. Often, the artists who are remembered are the ones who invent their own visual vocabulary and who respond to the issues of their time and place. As with great poets whose words add up to more than the sum of their individual parts, so Rosenquist’s lyricism stems from his combinations of everyday images that add up to a larger statement.
In Tampa-New York 1188, he notes the miles separating the cities while linking them on the skin of a smashed orange. Florida is known for its oranges, a fruit shaped like a globe. Rosenquist smashes the globe, thereby illustrating how close the two locations can really be.
While the tire tracks might make us think of a car trip between the two cities, Rosenquist is also referring to a key anecdote involving another art world star, Robert Rauschenberg, and the famous avant-garde composer John Cage. In 1953, Rauschenberg asked Cage to drive his car over some paint and over 20 sheets of paper he had placed on a road. He later used the imprint of tire tracks in a key artwork.
The episode became well-known in art circles, and Rosenquist made a sly reference to it.
USF professor Donald J. Saff, who created Graphicstudio in 1968 as a place where leading and emerging artists could experiment with artmaking techniques, invited Rosenquist to come to Tampa in 1971.
It was a happy collaboration. Rosenquist fell in love with the area, buying land and building a home and studio in Aripeka. For a time, he set up a studio on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City, buying art supplies on credit from Buddy Arnold, who had a store down the street.
Foe remembers him saying, "Why would anybody want to live anywhere else?"
Tragedy struck in 1971 when Rosenquist’s wife and son were seriously injured in a car accident. He was emotionally devastated over his family’s injuries.
Saff, who had originally envisioned Graphicstudio as a place artists could work for a spell and then leave, had a change of heart.
"I said to Jim, ‘You can stay at Graphicstudio as long as you want.’ In the end, he redefined what Graphicstudio was all about, and he changed the Tampa community."
Michelle Juristo, who with her husband founded Topaz Editions, remembers how excited her daughters, then 10 and 12, would get when Rosenquist showed up.
"He had a mission to make everybody happy," she said.
Someone had paid Rosenquist with a Cadillac in exchange for a painting.
"He would show up on Sunday evenings in his Cadillac to take us out to a restaurant," she said. "?‘Bring the kids!’ he would say. ‘Bring the kids!’?"
Contact Joanne Milani at [email protected]
"James Rosenquist: Tampa"
The exhibit is on view through Dec. 9 at the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum, 3821 Holly Drive, Tampa. At 6 p.m. Nov. 30, the museum will present a talk and demonstration by Graphicstudio printer Tim Baker titled Secrets of Rosenquist Prints. At 3 p.m. Dec. 2 in USF Theatre II, join in the James Rosenquist Memorial Celebration, followed by the exhibition reception in the museum. Seating is limited. RSVP at goo.gl/kwkTH1 or (813) 974-4164. All events are free. Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Groups and organizations interested in tours of the exhibition should contact the museum to schedule at least two weeks in advance. Free; however, a $5 USF parking permit or pay-per-space parking is required. (813) 974-4133. usfcam.usf.edu.