During this period, Rosenquist would jump between billboard scaffolds and his own home studio, where he was painting small, gray abstractions. But soon enough, Rosenquist decided to take everything he had learned from painting billboards and apply it to his art. He left the Art Students League and quit his job with Artkraft Strauss to paint full time. He began to produce huge canvases with the same smooth paints he had used on the billboards, incorporating found imagery from advertisements and Life magazine, carefully rendering the disparate references in a colorful, sensuous style.
Beyond subject matter, Rosenquist also carried over practical things from his billboard painting days. He’d learned how to mix the industrial paint used on signs, taking note of its bright, slick qualities, and, crucially, the transformative powers of scale. “He was a natural,” Goldman explained. “He could take a 5-inch photograph, which he used for reference, and scale it up to 15 feet.” When he was up on a billboard, Rosenquist had to paint in fragments. “It taught him about abstraction,” she said, “because when he painted a movie star’s cheek, all he saw was a field of pink. When he painted a large letter, all he saw was the color of that letter.”
While his use of advertisements and magazine imagery might seem directly in line with works by other Pop artists of his generation, Rosenquist took great pains to conceal his sources and complicate their meanings. He culled his imagery from magazines that were 10 years old, in order to evade nostalgia or a direct association with a specific product (to that end, he seldom included the names of the products or other identifying texts in his works).