“I’m interested in contemporary vision—the flicker of chrome, reflections, rapid associations, quick flashes of light. Bing-bang. I don’t do anecdotes. I accumulate experiences” (J. Rosenquist, quoted in J. Goldman, James Rosenquist, exh. cat. New York, 1985, p. 46).
“What I’m interested in is the interaction between humans and machines,” (J. Rosenquist with David Dalton, Painting Below Zero, New York, 2009, p. 256)
James Rosenquist’s Professional Courtesy depicts two guns pointing at each other from opposite ends of the canvas in a stand off. The artist, who along with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, pioneeded Pop art in the 1960s in response to the growth of advertising images in American consumer culture, depicts the gun as an image of American identity and an object of threat and violence. Though pointed directly at each, the perspective which Rosenquist chooses makes it seem as if one gun points out of the picture plane into the space occupied by the viewer, who stands in the position of holding the other gun, which points back into the canvas. The two guns and two hands have been enlarged to occupy most of the space of the large four-foot by four-foot canvas. The intense red chosen as the background for the scene is a color that matches the intensity of the image. Upon the painting’s debut in Chicago on 1996 at an exhibition called Target Practice, the critic for the Chicago Tribune, Alan G. Artner, described the hand in the foreground of Professional Courtesy as having been “simplified into more of a notch than a human hand.” Continuing, Arner writes, “The oddity is that the threat does not come from anything heightened or expressive in the actual painting of the guns. Rosenquist's brushwork is largely free from emotion. The threat here comes simply from having chosen a subject that carries a charge independent from art and preceding any sort of image making" (A. Artner, "James Rosenquist's Emotion-free Shooting Gallery," Chicago Tribune, 5 July 1996).
Rosenquist said of the work, “I want to illustrate the stark look and confrontation of a handgun. … Young people are confused by the way guns are depicted in the movies and on television. It shows the hero being shot, getting up brushing himself off, and then going on to act in another movie—becoming an even bigger star. The reality of being shot is really death forever and a big flame usually comes out of a real gun. These paintings are intended to be nondecorative and oblique. I hope they question the idea of who really is the target” (J. Rosenquist, James Rosenquist: Target Practice, Chicago, 1996, n.p.). In fact, such is the power of the image that Professional Courtesy is often used by publishers of textbooks as a learning tool to engage students in discussions about guns.