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John Lamb, Published October 21 2010

Artist Rosenquist comes home

It took a couple of tries, but James Rosenquist finally got his homecoming welcome.

Standing under his painting “The North Dakota Mural,” he held court at the Plains Art Museum on Wednesday night. The Grand Forks native told stories about his time growing up in the Red River Valley and his experiences in the art world.

The 24-by-13-foot oil painting was unveiled earlier this month. Rosenquist was scheduled to appear at the unveiling, but was forced to cancel due to illness.

It was the second time a big reveal was postponed. The first version of the painting was lost when a fire destroyed his Aripeka, Fla., studio in 2009. The painting now hanging in the Plains was purchased with an anonymous $600,000 donation and Rosenquist matching the amount by waiving the remainder of his fee.

The 76-year-old artist was in fine form Wednesday, however, as he greeted family, old friends and new fans. When not chatting, he would dance to the Tickwood String Band playing.

“It’s always nice to come out here. The people are nice,” he told the crowd. “I deal with a lot of people in the world that aren’t very nice.”

“It’s great to have someone around as long as him come back to his roots and educate us,” said Trent Balvitsch.

The owner of Addictions Tattoo and Piercing has been a fan since he did a school project on the famous pop artist nearly 20 years ago.

“It’s inspiring to see someone from North Dakota make it so big,” Balvitsch said.

“It’s terribly exciting,” Rosenquist said of the mural having a permanent home in his home state.

Those in attendance agreed. The artist signed posters and books for visitors and posed for pictures with patrons.

But some in the crowd may have been taken aback by his excitable demeanor. During a question-and-answer session, a museum tour guide said many children asked what a neon pink rectangle on the lower edge of the painting was.

“Come on,” Rosenquist barked. He then calmly explained that in the oil fields some pipes get so hot they glow red.

“It’s a terrific piece, very reflective of North Dakota,” Minnesota State University Moorhead art teacher Carl Oltvedt said of the mural. “As an artist, he speaks truthfully. It may not be Midwestern, or North Dakotan, but it’s great.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533