New York

James Rosenquist

Richard L. Feigen & Co

Over the past 20 years James Rosenquist has resided part of each year in Florida, and his ruminations on its clime have formed the context for his recent work. He evokes the tropics in lush, dank, and humid paintings bordering on the overripe, almost bursting their edges like some unnaturally forced exotic flowers. Photo-based elements accrue toward excess. As in his earlier work, Rosenquist layers and interweaves multiple images that all seem to call simultaneously for our attention, stubbornly resisting easy hierarchical or sequential reading. These are insistent pictures, scenarios that overload, creating dizzying and dazzling effects.

In most of the II paintings on display here, Rosenquist focuses on the riotous fecundity of the tropics, and on the inherent lusciousness of its flora and fauna. Brightly colored birds peek in, around, over, and through a dense pattern of plant life, highlighted by deep green succulents and intense pink and yellow flowers . This is a rich Eden, but one with a hint of impending decay about it, as if this hothouse world carries the seeds of its corruption within it; as if these outbursts of life must almost immediately give way and provide sustenance for their successors.

Interspersed among the denizens of this ultrajungle is a pictorial element that Rosenquist has often returned to over the years. An image of a smiling woman, presented as some media-derived fantasy of Miss America, is now sliced and scissored and rearranged across each of his canvases. Sometimes, as in Untitled, 1989, part of the image of the woman’s head is razored away in a zig-zag manner, ending in comblike teeth whose interstices are filled by an underlying image. In Flash Life, 1989, Rosenquist ribbons the face across the entire composition like some bizarre Möbius strip of flesh—now eye, then lip, then nose, then eye again. Either way, a woman’s face is used in a manner more latticed than layered, and in a fashion that undercuts her insistent grin and imperturbable scan.

The role of this woman in Rosenquist’s iconography has shifted. In his earlier work, she seemed to exemplify a kind of luxury item, the ideal consumer herself consumed by our gaze. She now functions as ripe and generative stuff, an integral part of her Day-Glo, hypernatural surroundings. Her treatment (and other purposefully disjunctive moments in these pictures, such as the seemingly arbitrary shifts into black and white passages) keeps the works’ surfaces tense and expectant. Rosenquist’s additive procedures create a sense of fast-paced drama and, as in the jungle scenes of the Douanier Rousseau, an odd and vaguely sinister sense of truth.

James Yood