Action on Action

Painter, Terry Rosenberg, Captures the Figure in Motion

at Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts

by Patrick LaGreca, Senior Editor, Omaha Weekly Reader

© Terry Rosenberg

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© Terry Rosenberg
Subdermal, Mark Jarecke 2002, Oil on Linen 36" X 54"

Dancing in his Grave


Dancing On his Grave!

Some cute analogy between Terry Rosenberg and Degas -- "Dancing in his grave, Dancing on his Grave," the possibilities are endless -- would be an easy device to begin a piece about Rosenberg's work. Such a comparison however, though relevant, if not blatant, falls short both descriptively and analytically.

Both artists have used dancers in their quest to capture the figure in motion. But while Degas's figures infer motion, thus containing potential energy, Rosenberg's paintings are motion, hence possessing kinetic energy. Figuring Motion, Rosenberg's current show at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, presents 13 paintings and drawings spanning a period from 1997 through 2001. All are based in the painter's use of dancers as live models, continuing his 20 plus-year pursuit of the human figure in motion.

From the smaller drawings ("Wendy #10" and "Wendy #13" are just 25.5 inches by 19.5 inches), to the large-scale paintings ("Sonja" measures 89 inches by 99 inches), the pieces are rife with life, composed of bold, gestural brush strokes, emanating from a central vortex. The center, or "nucleus," is typically the most worked part of the canvas, taking on a muddy quality, as if the paint had continually been scrubbed or sanded down and reapplied. Though anything resembling a figure has long been obliterated, the figure or figures are more than present in the remnants of their actions and the continued motion that Rosenberg has breathed into these inanimate objects.

In a 2001 interview with art historian Richard Kendall, Rosenberg explained the process and the relationship between form and movement as they interact. "When I'm drawing bodies in motion," he said, "form constantly disintegrates. Some of the drawings appear with what looks like a nucleus, where form, light, words and dynamic movement integrate or disintegrate. I'm drawing from a place where all these things collide and continuously change. It is inherent when focusing on the moment of creation, the ever changing present."

The use of words Rosenberg mentions is not as obtrusive as a literary description may lead one to believe. They are almost always names, presumably that of the dancer/model, delicately riding on the dynamism at the center of the pieces. The verbiage whispers, rather than pronounces, a name or phrase that was present at the time of the two artists' interaction, giving the painting another organic element for the viewer to grasp.

© Terry Rosenberg
Toshika Oiwa, 1999 Oil on Linen 78" X 110 1/4"

From the academic perspective of how these pieces participate in the contemporary painting dialogue, Rosenberg succeeds in addressing, and indeed creating, a new, unique paradoxical zone as gray as the "nucleus" of many of his canvases. Working from life, and more perfunctorily in the eyes of abstraction purists, the figure, he manages to arrive at pure abstraction. Yet there is no denying that these works are figurative -- both in a conceptual and visual context. Even the uninitiated eye will perceive the essence of the human form. Thus, he achieves that rare status of the few artists who have successfully addressed the figure while maintaining the abstract language with a robust respect for the two-dimensional plane.

Interestingly much of that plane is left white. Though the action, both that of the painter and the dancers, encompasses the entire area -- be it real or implied -- the outer edges are stark. This gives the work fluidity, an infinite openness and possibility. To extend activity any further toward the stretchers boundaries would create an aura of entrapment or caging -- as if the figures were attempting their movements in 6-foot cube. This virgin territory provides for the expanding forms or elements -- in not only the X- and Y- axes, but the Z also -- to continue on their course. It becomes the reaches of space that particles rush to penetrate after the "reaction" or "big bang,"

Rosenberg's relentless pursuit of the figure in motion has paid off. These works are a sure signal of a point of arrival, and perhaps a new point of demarcation. Those who recall his earlier work during his first encounters with the Bemis will see a connection, but most notably a maturation. Like the previous work, the pieces are well thought out and executed. There is strength in their deliberateness. But the current work takes that disposition a step further, to its logical outcome. Rosenberg is deliberately less deliberate, and consequently the results are that much more honest.

by Patrick LaGreca
Senior Editor, Omaha Weekly Reader

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