Paper Clip


James Rosenquist ( American, 1933 - 2017 )

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General Description

James Rosenquist's Paper Clip prominently features the red flying horse (corporate logo of the Mobil Oil Company and a beacon to travelers for decades) that adorns a high-rise in downtown Dallas, Texas. Upside-down letters at the top of the canvas read "THIS IS LOVE IN 1971." Below appear a wallet, a roll of cash-register tape and a receipt, a pair of gesturing hands (one holding the band bearing the message), and a paper clip that seems to bind the work together. Rosenquist's integration of a commercial symbol into a gigantic field of diversely scaled objects typifies the artist's work. Like Robert Rauschenberg [1986.8.A-B], Jess [1977.15] and Wallace Berman [1974.49], Rosenquist suggests narrative by combining images and text.

Rosenquist's career as a billboard painter is clearly evident in this work. The large painting is composed of four equal-sized vertical rectangles artfully fused into a single plane, while the artist's knowledge of the techniques and meanings of billboard-sized images makes good use of the seductive power of imagery at massive scale. Rosenquist became one of the most important pop artists of the early 1960s to scan the new consumerist media industry for inspiration. In Paper Clip, the power of money is strongly suggested by the stuffed wallet, and the price of life tallies symbolically with the cash-register tape. Here we see only the raw materials of the good life promised by advertising, ironically enlarged to roadside scale. In this provocative jumble of advertising and feature-story pictures, Rosenquist creates possible meanings where none before existed.

Adapted from

Charles Wylie, "Paper Clip," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Charles Venable (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1997), 284.

Fun Facts

  • The imagery in this work may be personal for the artist: on the night of February 12, 1971, Rosenquist, his wife, and his son were involved in a tragic automobile accident. His wife and his son were both seriously injured and they fell deeply into debt.