Richard L. Feigen & Co. is unveiling one of the iconic masterpieces of Post-War American painting, James Rosenquist’s A Pale Angel’s Halo and Slipping off the Continental Divide. Rosenquist made this signature, monumental painting in 1973, nine years after completing his famous composition, F-111 (1964), which A Pale
Angel’s Halo and Slipping off the Continental Divide can properly be put alongside
of in significance.
The exhibition is an homage to the still vigorously creative Rosenquist who turns
80 years old at the end of November, 2013. A Pale Angel's Halo and Slipping Off
The Continental Divide, is a milestone in Rosenquist's career and fascinatingly
autobiographical. It has been in the same collection for over 40 years and has
only been shown twice in New York since Leo Castelli showed it in 1974. There
are also a number of other rarely seen historic works in the exhibition.
In A Pale Angel’s Halo and Slipping off the Continental Divide, Rosenquist
transforms his personal experience of life into a universal message explains
Judith Goldman: “He found his visual language in parts of ordinary
things…The private references function merely as points of departure…They are
the elements out of which he forms modern pictures.” In this painting the hard,
industrial edge of a car frame becomes the bridge to a mystical place – it is the
lens through which Rosenquist would then view the world after his near fatal car
crash in 1971.
By 1963 Rosenquist had become celebrated for his provocative technique of making startling juxtapositions of Pop imagery. In Slipping off the Continental Divide he slams incongruous images against each other– a chrome car window frames for the viewer (outside) a mysteriously suspended section of a wooden staircase and is pushed against the image of a gigantic open book with glowing pages suspended like a flying saucer. The book seemingly dumps multicolored confetti and a large triangle, circle and square emblazoned with Chinese characters.
After the ’71 car accident, Rosenquist recounted the sense of fragmentation and flurries of color that rushed through his mind in that moment, and these elements certainly lurk in the background of this work. The pail handle doubles as a halo above a fluttering sheet of tergal. The process Rosenquist used to create the wrinkled, neon-colored rainbows behind the staircase and the angel’s ‘halo’ – crumpling canvas, spraying it, and stretching it back out – parallels his own experience of being crushed in the collision and emerging out the other side.
Rosenquist was born in North Dakota near the Continental Divide and has said, in his 2009 biography Painting Below Zero: Notes on a Life in Art, that this work is “a metaphor for my past life and my future: yesterday, today, and tomorrow…One way or another, you leave your home, you slip off the Continental Divide, which goes east or west…This painting was like saying good-bye to my past.”
Rosenquist, whose tremendous influence on subsequent generations (Salle, Koons etc.) remains to be chronicled in full, can be seen in "Slipping" characteristically meshing Pop and personal imagery forming a significant part of the rich iconography which he continues to develop over the next 40 years. A Pale Angel’s Halo and Slipping off the Continental Divide is monumental is not just size but importance in Rosenquist's career - the very crucible in which he connects his distant and recent traumatic past to the present and points the way to his fertile future. The exhibition, on view from October 1, 2013 to January 10, 2014, will include 4 historic paintings from 1984-93, collage studies, and a selection of monoprints and lithographs.