Collage and Scaling-up

Collage and Scaling-up

“Collage is still a very contemporary medium, whether it is done with little bits of paper or in the cinema.”
–James Rosenquist

Rosenquist’s early training as a sign painter is reflected in both his painting technique and planning process. He employs the traditional methods of the billboard painter, drawing freehand and painting with brushes. There are no projected images, no photo-transfers, and no Photoshop software. When he applies paint to the canvas he strives for a smooth seamless surface that shows no sign of the artist’s brushstrokes. This application both links him with commercial advertising and gives his canvases a sense of anonymity.

Rosenquist’s experience as a billboard painter provided him with a unique view of figurative imagery. Viewed up close, the giant images become abstract and mysterious, dissolving into areas of pure color, texture, and shape. Throughout his career, Rosenquist has thought of himself as an abstract painter.

In preparation for beginning a new work, Rosenquist creates source collages by juxtaposing small cutout magazine advertisements or photographs. These source collages, once regarded only as planning tools, are now considered works of art in their own right. The collages, like sketches from an artist’s notebook, offer a glimpse at the thought process behind the finished paintings. Grid lines are superimposed on the collage so that areas can be proportionally enlarged on the canvas. Through this scaling-up process, Rosenquist is able to translate the small source collage into paintings of sometimes-enormous proportions.

The painting President Elect (1960–61/1964) includes a portrait of John F. Kennedy borrowed from a 1960 presidential campaign poster. Rosenquist juxtaposed this portrait with images of middle-class wealth and consumerism—advertisements from Life magazine—in order to say, “Here is this new guy who wants to be President of the United States… what is he offering us?” Kennedy was the first presidential candidate to fully utilize the mass media in his campaign, and the painting is about “a man advertising himself.”

View + Discuss

James Rosenquist (b. 1933)
President Elect, 1960–61/1964
Oil on Masonite, 7 feet 5 3/4 inches x 12 feet
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne/Centre de Création Industrielle

1. Describe what you see in this painting. List all the associations you have with each image. What information does the painting provide that helps to place it in a specific historical time?

2. What do these images have in common? Why do you think Rosenquist might have combined these images together in one painting?

3. Consider the relative scale of the images. How are the size relationships between elements different from how they are usually experienced? How does the manipulation of scale suggest possible interpretations for this work?

James Rosenquist (b. 1933)
Collage for President Elect, 1960–61
Cropped poster, magazine clippings and mixed media, 14 x 23 13/16 inches
Collection of the artist

1. This is the source collage that was used as a planning tool to create the painting President Elect. In what ways is the collage similar to the painting? How is it different? What does Rosenquist do to unite these disparate images into one painting? How does seeing the source collage change your feelings for and appreciation of Rosenquist’s work?

Art Explorations

Rosenquist uses a technique known as “scaling-up” to enlarge the images from his collages into enormous paintings. To experiment with this technique you will need:

  • stacks of old magazines
  • a 3 x 4 inch paper frame cut from the center of a sheet of paper
  • fine-point permanent marker
  • a proportional piece of drawing paper. Start with 9 x 12 inches, but once you become proficient you can go larger
  • hard and soft drawing pencils

Select a black-and-white magazine photograph that appeals to you. You can try color as you gain more experience. Use the 3 x 4 inch frame to select a portion of the photo. Look for an interesting composition and contrasts in darks and lights. Trace around and cut out the selected area and mount it on a piece of poster board. With a ruler and a fine-point marker, draw a 1/2-inch grid on top of your cropping. Label your grid like a graph with numbers going down one side and letters going across.

With a ruler and hard pencil (2H) draw a very light 1 1/2-inch grid on your drawing paper. Outside the margin of your drawing, very lightly label your grid like a graph with numbers and letters just like the cropping. Now begin to transpose what you see in the gridded photograph onto the larger drawing paper. Allow the superimposed grid lines to help you focus more clearly. This process is time consuming and takes lots of careful work and observation, but it can help you to enlarge an image quite convincingly.

Create your own source collage from magazine clippings. When you have a composition that appeals to you, enlarge your collage into drawing or painting by scaling up.

Although Rosenquist does not use a computer to generate his compositions, digital technology presents another tool that students can use to experiment with combining images and creating interesting effects. Begin by having students conduct a Google search for images online ( as source material to create a digital collage. Photographs from magazines can also be scanned and saved. Using a simple imaging program like Powerpoint or a more advanced program such as Photoshop, help students import the files, using the simple commands for cutting and pasting.

Additional Resources

Kaupelis, Robert. Experimental Drawing. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1980. Includes a chapter on approaches to drawing that use photographs, cropped images, and grids.

On View

This presentation, comprised of selected materials from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Archives, pays homage to the first Frank Lloyd Wright–designed structures in New York City.

Works & Process

Photo: Petrus Sjövik

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