One of the pleasures and benefits of working in the film business for over 30 years was the opportunity to meet and be around really brilliant and creative people.
One of those people was the Pop Artist James Rosenquist. We first met when I was hired by a German production company to produce a corporate film they were doing for Deutsche Bank, that included a section on Jim and his art. Years before the bank had commissioned The Swimmer in the Econo-mist for their Berlin headquarters,
For a couple years after, I kept in touch with Jim and his staff - who like Jim were the nicest, down-to-earth folks, and I would make it a point to stop by and visit whenever I was in that part of the state - he lived in a tiny little village named Aripeka, right on the Gulf where he had his home, office and a giant metal fabricated warehouse building that was his studio,
The last time I stopped by, I spent the afternoon with him, and after we went out in his boat for a spin, came back to his studio where he was putting the finishing touches on one of his pieces, and this time I asked if I could make some photographs while he worked and talked.
While he was a very famous artist, he was also a very bright guy who none the less was down-to-earth, and ready to open a beer bottle with a screw driver if he couldn't find a bottle opener.
The warehouse where he worked was huge - as were some of his paintings - and he had everything in there from old cars, to paintings in various stages of competition, to all the tools and art supplies that he used to create his paintings.
He'd mix his paints using a blender and then use an airbrush to do the actual painting.
As someone who dabbled for a while as a Southern Regional landscape artist, I found it fascinating to watch him use that airbrush almost like a scalpel at times, and we spent the afternoon talking about art, my work as a photojournalist - my coffee book had recently come out - and he wanted me to tell him the stories behind some of the photos. The afternoon went by drinking beer, telling stories and laughing about the craziness of the world while he worked.
I was saddened to learn that he died on Friday, not only because he was a gifted and brilliant artist that changed how people look at art, but because he was a nice, funny guy whose fame did not get in the way of his being a regular guy.
Fame can sometimes change people, and its always a gift to find someone famous who in ways big and small, and often unconsciously, shows that he never forgot where he came from.