James Rosenquist is a pioneer of the Pop art movement alongside Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Claes Oldenburg. After a brief career as a billboard painter, in the 1960s Rosenquist created extraordinary compositions based on advertisement imagery as veritable critiques of consumer culture. From the 1970s onwards, his paintings also incorporated geo-political, existentialist, environmental, and cosmic themes.
Four New Clear Women is an iconic painting first exhibited at Leo Castelli Gallery in 1983. Its panoramic format and monumental scale is reminiscent of a billboard while the faces of the women depicted echo print advertising models. The splintered and interlacing imagery, characteristic of this period of Rosenquist’s work and inspired by the saw palmettos growing on his Florida property, is used as a device to compress more visual information into the painting by featuring two pictorial planes at once. The title of the painting is a word play: are the female political leaders of that time (such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and others), representing ‘four new, clear women,’ clear about nuclear threat, or are they ‘four nuclear women,’ leaving us with the ambiguity of whether or not they will be warmongers or peacemakers?