James Rosenquist

Sunglasses - Landing Net - Triangle


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
James Rosenquist 1933 – 2017
Etching, drypoint and aquatint on paper
Image: 450 × 895 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

James Rosenquist born 1933

P77056 Sunglasses - Landing Net - Triangle 1974

Etching, drypoint, aquatint, sugarlift, transfer paper and sandblasting 450 x 895 (17 3/4 x 35 1/4) on BFK Rives paper 715 x 1028 (28 1/8 x 40 1/2); plate-mark 453 x 898 (17 7/8 x 35 3/8); printed at Styria Studio, New York and published by Multiples, New York in an edition of 80
Inscribed ‘Rosenquist 1974' below image b.r., ‘Triangle' below image b.r., ‘Landing Net' below image bottom centre, ‘1/2 Sunglass' below image b.l. and ‘69/80' below image b.l.
Purchased at Christie's (Grant-in-Aid) 1984

Unless otherwise stated, all quotations are taken from the artist's answers to questions posed by the compiler in a questionnaire dated 9 May 1988.

P77056 is one of four prints belonging to the set entitled ‘Time Flowers'. It is the only etching in the set and uses the following intaglio processes: etching, drypoint, aquatint, sugarlift, transfer paper and sandblasting. Rosenquist regards it as ‘an experiment in technique, not colour' and although it was not the first etching which Rosenquist made it was ‘the first opportunity to experiment in a good shop with all materials available'. He has explained that these particular processes were used because ‘I tried most techniques that were done by hand. I didn't want to use photography'. All four prints were hand-printed at Styria Studio. The other prints in the set are: ‘Silkscreams', a fourteen colour silkscreen on Natsumi rice paper, ‘Universal Star Leg', a nine colour lithograph with one embossing plate and a stone suspended from a rope on copper plate deluxe paper, and ‘Charcoal Shed', an eighteen colour silkscreen on black Arches hand-torn paper.

The ‘Time Flowers' set was made during a period of adversity for Rosenquist. He has stated that ‘The 1970's were a terrible period in my life because of an autocrash that crippled my wife and son ... It took until 1977 for my career and debts to lighten up'. At the beginning of 1971, the artist, together with his wife, Mary Lou and son, John, were staying in Florida while Rosenquist was working on a series of twelve lithographs at Graphic Studio II, University of South Florida, Tampa. The prints produced as a result of this project are: ‘Delivery Hat', ‘Mirrored Flag', ‘Moon Beam Mistaken for the News', ‘Moon Box', ‘Music School (for Peter Schjeldahl)', ‘Mastaba', ‘Cold Light', ‘Earth and Moon', ‘Art Gallery', and ‘Fedora for G.S.' all dated 1971 (all repr. James Rosenquist, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam 1973, nos 25-35). The crash to which Rosenquist refers occured during this stay, on the evening of 12 February 1971. All three members of the family were seriously injured and required urgent and, in the case of Rosenquist's wife and son, lengthy hospital treatment. Because Rosenquist's insurance was inadequate, mounting hospital bills meant that he was soon heavily in debt. It was thus as a means of coping with this financial crisis that Rosenquist embarked, in 1972, on a series of graphics projects. This includes the twenty-two foot long lithograph ‘Horse Blinders' 1972, (repr. ibid., nos 37-40) published by Multiples and Castelli Graphics, New York in an edition of 85, a group of fourteen prints published by Petersberg Press, London, notably ‘Rainbow', ‘Flower Garden', ‘Hey Let's Go for a Ride' and ‘Brigher than the Sun' all dated 1972, and the ‘Time Flowers' set to which the Tate's work belongs.

The tripartite arrangement of the motifs in P77056 is characteristic of Rosenquist's work from the early 1970s onwards and is a departure from the greater complexity of his compositions in the 1960s. According to the artist, he did ‘a number of things in threes'. For example, in the same set of prints, ‘Silkscreams' consists of a group of three arrangements of crossed nails, and ‘Charcoal Shed' comprises two rows of three grouped nail motifs, one above the other. His other graphic works produced around the same time, notably ‘Yellow Landing' 1974, (lithograph with silkscreen, repr. James Rosenquist Graphics Retrospective, exh. cat., John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Florida p.17 no.57), ‘Paper Clip' 1974 (lithograph, repr. ibid., p.11 no.60), ‘Cold Rolled' 1974-76 (lithograph, repr. ibid., p.15 no.66), and ‘Living Room Furniture for E. Rukin' 1976 (etching, repr. ibid., p.19 no.78), all represent a similar compositional approach and, like P77056, the individual motifs within the groups are based on, or incorporate in a literal way, the three basic geometric shapes of triangle, circle and square. Rosenquist employs the imagery in his work in a way that is allusive and deliberately obscure and this is expressed, for example, in Rosenquist's account of how this underlying geometric structure originated: ‘I did a drawing with [equilateral triangle, circle and square drawn in a row] and inside put the Chinese characters for triangle, circle and square only I purposely mixed them. I called it "Marco Polo returns". A Chinese said a Chinese would never buy it'. This mixing of Chinese characters and shapes occurs in the oil and acrylic painting ‘Slipping Off The Continental Divide' 1973; the triangle, square and circle, as shapes per se, appear for the first time in the print which preceded it: ‘Off The Continental Divide' 1973 (lithograph, P07379, repr. Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1980-2, 1984, p.285). Nevertheless, he has explained that he uses the triangle, circle and square as symbols for ‘Myself, the Idea, the Paper' and that this is the subject matter of the ‘Time Flowers' set. In regard to P77056 in particular, Rosenquist has observed that it is ‘A universal experimental ground', and the wide range of intaglio techniques which he used were symptomatic of his engagement with a printmaking process as subject.

Further levels of meaning are suggested by the particular motifs used. P77056 consists of a single sunglasses lens, a landing net and a Texan dinner triangle enclosing six crossed nails. These elements are also used by Rosenquist in a number of other works. For instance, the sunglasses lens appears in ‘Spring Cheer' 1975 (mixed media and collage on paper, repr. Judith Goldman, James Rosenquist, exh.cat. Denver Art Museum, Colorado 1985, p.59), the landing net in ‘Yellow Landing' 1974 (lithograph and silkscreen) and the Texas dinner triangle in ‘Fast Feast' 1976 (etching, repr. James Rosenquist Graphics Retrospective, exh.cat., John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Florida 1979); the nails motif is employed more frequently, notably in ‘Off the Continental Divide' 1973, where it appears for the first time, in ‘Snow Fence' 1973 (oil on canvas, repr. Goldman 1985, p.57) as the main subject, and in the other three prints in the ‘Time Flowers' set. According to Rosenquist, the individual meaning of these elements is ‘A view, the landing of Ideas, Texas Dinner Triangle, Time represented by nails'. The images used by Rosenquist during the period following the accident were often autobiographical in nature and the nails motif is one such case as it carries a number of personal associations. In one way it refers to the traumatic nature of Rosenquist's life at this time through its connections with crucifixion. At the same time the nails image is also invested with a sense of renewal and optimism in that nails are implements with which to build. Rosenquist has commented that ‘nails are like a metaphor for burning the house down and picking nails out of the ashes to start a new house' (from notes on a conversation with James Rosenquist, Multiples Newsletter, 22 May 1974, p.3). More specifically they refer to an actual experience. The artist has stated: ‘Is a person in prison marking time or building something? I was in jail in Washington D.C. protesting the Vietnam War and wondering why'. Nails refer to this experience by suggesting a crude way of marking time in prison. In P77056 they are arranged so that they cross at a central point from which they radiate. Their symbolism is therefore less explicit than in ‘Off the Continental Divide' and ‘Snow Fence' where one nail diagonally crosses four vertical nails and is thus more readily recognisable as an improvised abacus.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.450-2

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