James Rosenquist - Editions & Works on Paper New York Tuesday, April 16, 2024 | Phillips
  • “There’s a reflection in your eye that causes strange things to happen.”
    —James Rosenquist

     Fascinated with vision across his career, Circles of Confusion (Without Light Bulb) represents one of Rosenquist’s earlier printed forays into the world of optics, later tackling subjects such as eye exams and color blindness tests. The term “circles of confusion” refers to the optical phenomenon experienced when pointing a camera lens into the sun or other light source, causing as Rosenquist described them, “little balls of color that start moving around,” elaborating “or the aperture is reflected inside the camera into a circle, the same way in your eye – theres a reflection in your eye that causes strange things to happen. And it was like trying to find something while looking at a light bulb.” i


    James Rosenquist holding up a proof of a GE logo for his print Circles of Confusion I with printmakers Frank Burnham and Zigmund Priede, Universal Limited Art Editions, Inc., West Islip, New York, 1965. Image: Courtesy of Universal Limited Art Editions.

    Rosenquist’s interest in visual phenomena perhaps began in his youth, the artist recalling a childhood story while living in the Plains: “as a little kid at sunset and the sun is in back of me, and walking across the horizon is a Trojan horse four stories tall. I go, ‘Uh-oh—what's that?’ So I run in the house and say, ‘Look! Look at the big horse!’ It was the neighbor’s white stallion, which had got loose, caught the light in the heat, and it looked four stories tall. These kinds of little things make, I think, the curiosity, or the inquisitiveness, that make an artist.”ii 


    According to Rosenquist, the title also evokes notions of identity crisis and the nature of patriotism during the Vietnam War. While visiting a plastics factory in Dallas, he was surprised to find “a big dish of American flags.”iii Associates of the factory told him they were being made for General Electric workers, with the intention that they would display them on their car aerials to indicate their patriotism; those who chose not to, by implication, lacked patriotism. To Rosenquist, the practice symbolized “something like McCarthyism” rather than patriotism, harkening back to the notions of perception that cause photographic circles of confusion.


    i  Jeanne Siegel, “An Interview with James Rosenquist,” Artforum vol. 10, no. 2 (1972), p. 31.

    ii Walter Hopps, “Connoisseur of the Inexplicable” in Walter Hopps and Sarah Bancroft, James Rosenquist: A Retrospective, 2003, p. 3.

    iii  Constance Glenn, James Rosenquist: Time Dust, Complete Graphics 1962 -1992, 1993, pp. 12-13.


Circles of Confusion (Without Light Bulb)

Offset lithograph in colors, on wove paper, with full margins.
I. 19 7/9 x 19 7/8 in. (50.2 x 50.5 cm)
S. 23 x 29 1/8 in. (58.4 x 74 cm)

From the edition of an unknown size, unframed.

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$500 - 700 

Sold for $1,207

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Editions & Works on Paper

New York Auction 16 - 17 April