When James Rosenquist quit his job painting billboards in New York City in 1960, he imported many commercial techniques of the sign-painting trade into his work. Like his contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Andy Warhol, Rosenquist went against the tide of Abstract Expressionism and was labeled a New Realist. He developed his own brand of New Realism—later to be coined Pop art—by fragmenting and recombining images drawn from advertising, using commercial paint, and continuing to work on a large scale. Rosenquist was already one of the leaders of the American Pop art movement when he achieved international acclaim in 1965 with his monumental painting F-111 (1964–65). Measuring 86 feet in length, this work commented on the military industrial complex that supported America’s burgeoning consumer culture and was considered by many to be an anti-war statement.
In 1970, Rosenquist painted Flamingo Capsule, which commemorates the American space program and is dedicated to the three astronauts who died in a 1967 flash-fire during a training session for the flight of Apollo I. The composition suggests fire in a contained space, and documents the artist’s idea of “objects floating around in the capsule.” Set against a field of red and yellow are the crumpled foil of a uniform emblazoned with the American flag, a twisted and distorted food bag, and the arc of a balloon floating through space.