Thursday, December 23, 2010

Untangling things

Michael Rosch at Keyes Art Projects:

Visiting Michael Rosch's studio is sort of like entering a museum of decisions. There are the roads taken over here, the roads less taken over there, and, of course, all the other roads -- and they all swirl around a central focus that is constantly shifting, mutating, reinventing itself. I met with Rosch earlier this month to talk about his art, his visit to Japan and his show at Keyes Art Projects now on view in Chelsea. We sat down in his studio for a chat and a cup of tea:

MR: When I bought my house the land was just scrub oaks; some big, some small. The land was totally untouched. I spent a month pulling out bittersweet. 

JG: Bittersweet -- that's the choking vine?

MR: Right, yes. Perfect name for it. Some of the vines were 4 inches in diameter. It got to the point, though, that I liked the vines so much that I'd climb to the top of the tree to unravel the whole thing. That's the memory, and that's where this work really comes from -- from the physical experience. I didn't save it, I just liked doing it. We constantly unravel and wrap things up. 

I always felt the bittersweet has just as much right to strangle the tree as the tree has.

The work at Keyes Art Projects is selected small sculptures that reiterate this idea along with assembled canvas paintings and works on paper. The watercolors achieve a sort of gestural Surrealism where form rises out of darkness like the words inside a Magic 8 Ball. Lines ravel and unravel in swirls of color. Some appear biological. Others look like automatic writing -- elastic and fleeting -- like light traces left on the retina after a flashlight waggles in the dark.

During a visit to Japan, Rosch took a watercolor class and purchased dozens of water based pigments -- probably some of the finest pigments in the world. We looked at the huge array of powders that came in glass viles, corked at one end. 

JG: What's the difference for you between oil painting and watercolor? 

MR: I think we have an intrinsic understanding of water. We are mostly water, after all. With oil paint there are ways to be clever, but watercolor is pretty honest. 

JG: Your trip to Japan seems to have had some impact on the way you look at your work.

MR: Well, yes. We went to so many cultivated gardens and every one was extraordinary. Everything has its presence in Japan -- nothing is taken for granted.

You can't capture the experience on film or in print -- it's a physical space. It's a revelation. It's transformative -- you have to walk it, be in it, move through it. 

It's the magic space of real space that interests me. Intuiting real space.

Rosch installed curls of steel throughout the hallways of Keyes Art Projects, to stunning effect.

MR: The gardens, over time, are tempered. When you're walking through the spaces there's an amazing cohesion. Probably the garden that affected me the most was the smallest one. The way it walked and the scale of what you saw when you walked it really made you spatially aware. I'm not Japanese. It's just a crazy idea of mine. 

Rosch seems to have a sixth sense for bringing focus to unknowable things -- he's a sort of ΓΌbermensch who finds himself contemplating string theory while bending metal.

Installation view

Small Curves Watercolor No. 6, 2010
Small Curves Watercolor No. 24, 2010

Michael Rosch, Small Curves. On view thru January 4th.                                                                                                                                                               JMG

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