For Artist Terry Rosenberg the Moving Human Body Offers a Canvas Like No Other
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in The Jewish Press
When he draws or paints bodies in motion, from dancers performing turns to ballplayers swinging bats, he sees things the rest of us miss. His intense focus enables him to see “more acutely or deeply” the complex kinesthetic, aesthetic, spatial dynamics of people moving in “highly concentrated ways.”
Terry Rosenberg, who commutes between Omaha and New York City, strives to capture not so much a frozen moment in time as the apogee of myriad moments. “What I’m doing is giving you kind of a still image at the end,” he said from his spacious, white, Old Market studio, “but the still image is of several moments. It’s of an event that’s happened and it’s a culmination of marks that kind of map an event.”
Rosenberg, a Hartford, Connecticut, native who grew up in Miami, and studied art there and in western New York state, first came to Omaha in 1982 for a workshop conducted by Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts founder Ree Schonlau.
By then he was living in NYC and already finding he sometimes needed to get away. “If you live in New York you just have to go somewhere else regularly. You just have to,” he said.
He and Schonlau became friends and in 1984 he came back to do an extended Bemis residency. That experience convinced him to make Omaha his second home, which he has for two decades. “It’s all about the Bemis,” he said. “I had a lot fun. It was like summer camp all year long. I have friends here and because I have so much history here, Omaha was just the natural place to come to outside of New York.”
The basis for all his art is drawing, but he’s also worked in sculpture and other forms. Much of his work the last 15 years has been consumed with moving bodies.
As models perform gestures, assume positions, take steps, execute leaps, none predetermined or posed, Rosenberg is right there in the swirl of it all, close enough to feel the rush of air from a ballerina’s pirouette or a batter’s follow through. Moves happen rapidly, spontaneously in front of him, whether in the rehearsal hall, the studio, the batting cage or the gym. “It’s wildly dynamic,” he said. To follow the model, he remains “structureless.”
Often, he must attend to multiple bodies moving around him. So much happens at once, yet he’s intent on rendering on paper or canvas these swift, ephemeral, ever-changing actions as they unfold and as he experiences them. The resulting images have a visceral, primal, sensual immediacy.
“It’s instinctual for sure,” he said.
In these sensory-laden sessions, he enters a zone where he becomes one with the subject. The rhythm of his applying charcoal, graphite, pastel, not with sticks or brushes, but with saturated sock or glove-covered hands and arms, is matched in synch with the model’s movements.
“It’s very physical,” he said.
Subdermal, Mark Jarecke 2002, Oil on Linen
“The tools of painting are not designed for speed,” he said, “and I keep trying to find better ways to make a painting where I don’t have to stop and look at the palette and reload on occasion, but where I can kind of keep going.” As so much goes on with such speed in a compressed period of time he can’t reproduce dance or sport in any conventional sense. Rather, his energetic lines, daubs, marks and splays are the visual equivalent of automatic writing. By eye to hand he charts the energy flows, thermal traces and physical essences of artists/athletes executing graceful, explosive, yet always expressive moves. “If there’s any strategy I have used it’s to try to stay in the present, always. I don’t want to go to memory. I don’t want to stop and go, What happened six minutes ago? What happened six seconds ago? I try to show the constant change in front of me. I’m drawing the thing that’s usually not able to be drawn,” he said.
“The body reveals so many things and a body in motion is a combination of all the psychological and emotional and physical systems working at once, and I’m trying to draw that combination …It gives you a different reading than what you’re used to seeing, one that’s more interesting and profound to me. And it’s different art historically as well.”
Technical issues arise from his method of repeatedly applying paint to the same areas. “Colors start to mix up quickly and turn to mud when you keep going over the same area,” he said.
Most often his subjects are modern dance or classical ballet. He’s done work based on observations of such renowned companies as the Mark Morris Dance Group, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the American Ballet Theatre and the Kirov Ballet. He’s done studies, too, of Ballet Omaha and Chomari, the resident dance troupe at El Museo Latino. Then there’s his work with athletes, notably of the New York Yankees taking batting practice. He’s now preparing a series on University of Nebraska-Omaha wrestlers.
He also makes images of individuals. He’s done a series on Indian dancer Aparna Ramaswamy, a leading master of Bharatanatyam, as well as on an Omaha yoga practitioner and a New York actress.
Most of his works are titled after the names of the models he used. After all, he said, his images “are much like portraits, but just different kinds of portraits.”
Rosenberg’s bodies-in-motion work is widely exhibited and collected. In an unusual coincidence his work can now be seen in three solo Nebraska shows.
Through Aug. 31 at El Museo Latino, 4710 So. 25 St., is Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, drawings of Chomari’s festive, high energy dance suites. Through Aug. 17 in the Fred Simon Gallery at the Nebraska Arts Council, 1004 Farnam St., is Asanas — drawings of yoga mistress Adrienne Posey assuming meditative postures of her discipline. Also through Aug. 17 at the Governor’s mansion in Lincoln, 1425 ‘H’ St., is a set of four paintings of actress Meredith Napolitano in the throes of dramatic Method acting exercises.
The diverse expressions displayed in these shows confirm Rosenberg’s interest in looking for new forms of movement that challenge and fascinate him. For him, it’s all about engaging subjects without agenda, distraction or art historical reference.
“I call what I do highly focused abandon. I definitely have to be in a ‘screw-it’ mentality…in the sense everything goes out the window that I know,” he said. If he’s after anything, it’s the fluid, instant-by instant catharsis of change.
“I think when the body moves we’re in this kind of transitional mode. We’re unraveling, if you will, and the unraveling speaks as much of life as it does of death. It speaks of that place of change which people are freaked out about or exhilarated about,” he said. “The nature of what I’m drawing is just that — it’s the body in constant change and it’s provocative in a certain way of that fleeting moment. Life is happening and it’s dying at the same moment, and in the next moment, more life and death..
“The unraveling makes the body more transparent in a way. You see more facets of it. I find it emotionally and formally stimulating.”
He’s so attuned to what transpires in a live drawing session, he said, “it’s almost like time stops. Sometimes the act of drawing takes me into this place we call the moment of creation. It’s almost like I’m in some sub-atomic place. The creative act, if you’re open to it, creates things you never really expected to happen and that I find interesting and curious.”
From eye to hand, he translates the beauty and mystery of what he sees and feels.
“I find the hand is such an extended part of your internal world, like touch and speech,” he said. “It gives you access to a certain kind of voice.”
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