Artist David Rosenak

Today I’m going to highlight paintings by my friend David Rosenak.  This may be the longest post I’ll ever make.   He has four paintings up at the Portland Art Museum this year – 2015 – in the Northwest Contemporary section.  GO SEE THEM. While you’re at it, mention to PAM that they should do a better job of pointing out where these paintings are; I’ve been to that museum probably 25 times and I always have to figure out where in the world that particular gallery is. 

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
(untitled), David Rosenak, oil on plywood, 7 3/4″ x 7″, 2008

There are so many things to say about David – first and foremost is that his paintings are absolutely captivating. I happened to stumble across two other pieces at the Portland Art Museum a few years ago.  I clearly remember thinking, “who painted these!??” — and life is amazing sometimes, because I actually got to find out who, and become friends with the painter.

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
Oil Paintings by David Rosenak – Portland Art Museum 2011
Plaid Pantry, oil on plywood, (2010), 9 7/8" x 10 3/8", David Rosenak, On View at PAM during 2015
Plaid Pantry, oil on plywood, (2010), 9 7/8″ x 10 3/8″, David Rosenak, On View at PAM during 2015

I found out because I posted an image on my blog and David vainly googled himself. (Just kidding David, not vanity so much as housekeeping – right? What you can’t see here is that I realized I should google myself to see if anything is interesting there. Not really. It’s only stuff I put on the web myself. So okay.)  Anyway, David found my blog, read it, and actually liked my paintings too! At some point, he emailed me and we started talking about painting, art we admire and being an artist.

David Rosenak Oil Painting
(untitled) by David Rosenak (c.2001-2003) Oil on Plywood 8″ x 9″,  collection PAM

Over the course of these conversations David has become sort of a mentor or an example of having integrity as an artist. So, to set the stage for how he has been an example, I’m going to share where my head is/was. I felt — and still feel — internal pressure to legitimize my obsession with art by turning it into a business.  But I’m not capable of “branding” myself with a style and making pieces that are predictable and popular.  I absolutely think art is a noble profession and if people sell their work well enough to put food on the table, I think that’s awesome! It’s great when art can be appreciated widely, but if you’re an artist you also know there’s an icky, slippery slope to fall down when you’re making art mainly for other people. On the other hand, most of us are not simply expressing ourselves for its own sake, but trying to reach out and connect to some unknown viewer in an authentic and sincere way.

Along with that struggle, there is the battle for technical skills, real ideas and the essential but unpredictable spark of magic that makes good pieces work.  It can take years to even come close to making something really special.  Years of self-examining, persistent, steady work. To be really great, you have to start young and have some successes; many of those successes are self delusions, but that’s no matter, they keep you going, keep you pushing forward. After all that you still may not have achieved something great, or may not get recognition until you’re gone.  It can be such a strange and insane undertaking to “be an artist”.

So here I am, needing to justify all this by making it a business and I meet David.  The time when I meet him and first see his work is at a point where he has achieved something special through years of trial and error and persistence.  His work is desired by collectors, galleries want to sell his work, and David simply says “No, thank you”. He does not sell his work. I repeat — his paintings are not for sale. He has goals for his work, for sure. He doesn’t create it “for himself” – as the corny line goes.  He wants it to be seen in the world by as many people as possible. He knows how long they take to make, how hard he worked to make something he is truly proud of and he wants to cast them in a place where they have the best chance to grow.

And he knows they are precious. They take months and months to complete.  He puts scores of hours into each piece.   Because time stops for no man, his window for making them is pretty small – as it is for us all – but heightened by the fact that ten years ago David discovered he has Parkinson’s disease, which causes tremors, making painting tiny things a challenge.  When he first noticed the tremor it was in his right hand, and after three years he trained himself to paint with his left.  (This is so typical of David. Persistent.)  Now he can only paint on his good days, still with the left hand.

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
(untitled), 2011, oil on plywood by David Rosenak, 8″ x 8″, on view at PAM during 2015

More interesting things about David: he is color blind.  When David was young and testing out his influences, he tried a few paintings in the style of Wayne Thiebauld, but since Thiebauld’s thing has a lot to do with color, David realized he was trying on someone else’s shoes (we all do that when we’re young, but some of us never grow out of it).  Then he noticed his primary teacher was making some greyscale paintings, and he realized he’d been fighting a battle with color he had no hope of winning, so he switched to greyscale in 1981 and hasn’t looked back.

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
(untitled) 2013, oil on plywood, David Rosenak, 18 3/8″ x 16 3/4″, on view at PAM during 2015
Oil Painting by David Rosenak
For Sarah, 2014,  oil on plywood, 3 1/2″ x 10 1/2″, collection Sarah F Burns

I’ve seen still lifes, cityscapes and figure drawings by David, and they’re all really good, but the little cityscapes are the best. David has painted cityscapes since the late 80’s; he showed me a few scenes near his house in a medium sized scale. And they were cool.  Then he made them small (nothing larger than 20″ and most average 10″ on the long side) and bam! They suddenly really worked.  As the scale was becoming more intimate, the subject moved closer and closer to his home. All the views are of his back yard or his view toward downtown Portland.  Since he has the subject, scale and approach settled, he is focusing on compositions, and they get more and more mature. He likes to joke that he is essentially making the same painting over and over again in an attempt to improve it.  And he has many plans for new paintings within that framework. The adage of freedom coming from limitations is really true, I guess.

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
(untitled) 2007, oil on plywood, 7 3/4″ x 5 7/8″, David Rosenak, on view at PAM during 2015
Poppy, oil on plywood, David Rosenak
Poppy, oil on plywood, David Rosenak, collection of Maureen Caviness

Since his subject matter is his yard and what he can see from it, it’s useful to say something about his home. He has a wild, artsy little compound in SE Portland, full of cats and dogs and amazing plants, and all tended to by his neighbor and long time friend, Moe (Maureen). Moe is a gardener and you see in the paintings records of Moe’s work and their friendship.  David lives kind of like a cat, moving around his territory, napping, enjoying bits of shade or bits of sun, walking over to his studio a few blocks away to paint, taking the bus across the river to his day job.  His paintings are like a cat would record things because they feel so still, yet so full of life.  Like a cat they contain long moments of stillness while being ready to spring to action at any second. They’re also neutral like a cat.  They’re not saying, “Let’s go do this!” or “Think this!” but, “This is fine as it is.  I’ll find a comfortable place here.”   They say, “I see it all, and it’s fine.”  They’re so documentary and so neutral that they create a deep feeling of calm.  It makes me feel like the best times in the world are those times when you take your coffee outside in the sun and sit and soak in the world, with your friends or without.  I love the little figures who are doing just this.  They’re Moe and David, and they’re just standing there like they’re thinking, trying to decide what to do next.  Pondering something, calculating.  Trying to decide which thing they could do today. Or if maybe the day is best spent sunning, checking the mail, weeding a bit here.  Taking a break in the business of the day to pet the cat.

Oil Painting by David Rosenak
(untitled) 2002-2004, David Rosenak, 10 1/4″ x 10 1/2″,  oil on plywood, collection PAM

So anyway, David Rosenak’s work resonates with me deeply and while I actually do really like to sell my work, his example has helped me to relax and focus only on making work I feel really good about, and let the chips fall where they may.  It also gives me hope that one day, some stranger will see my paintings in a museum and say, “Who painted these?”

Full Cup of Inspiration

Tom and I headed to Portland for a very quick little dose of urban life this past weekend.  We arrived in town just in time to get in on the free open late night at Portland Art Museum.  We had just over an hour to soak up some inspiration.  We LOVED the photo exhibit in the Gilkey Center – Ray Metzker – gorgeous value based abstracted urban photos.  Juicy yummy photos like drawings.  Delicious!!

Portland Art Museum 2011
Ray Metzker, Philadelphia 1980

Also noted were pieces from the permanent collection by Alden Mason (however, this is not the piece at PAM – I grabbed something similar from google):

Alden Mason

What I love about Mason is the intentional paint application, it’s beautiful transparency. Nearby was a Neo Rauch – sorry for the poor photo – I feel really weird taking photos in the museum, for one thing I have a hard time telling if it’s okay and it just feels goofy to take a photo of something that’s best appreciated in person.  But for the sake of internet conversation:

Neo Rauch

David Rosenak’s intense and photographic grissaille pieces in the NW Contemporary section were a feast for the eyes – again the piece pictured here is not in PAM but provides an example of his work.  The guard was really cute – he was just gushing over his work.

David Rosenak

Rosenak’s pieces were also refreshingly small.  It’s nice to have a pallette cleanser among all the huge contemporary works.

And finally as we were being swept from the building we felt sad by Jack McLarty’s The Bystander – a Portland painting

Jack McLarty - The Bystander

Next stop dinner and then we caught my favorite band Dengue Fever in concert – overheard at the show “there are so many old people here tonight”  and my husband spoke to a man he put in his 70’s who was apparently Cambodian – he told Tom how much he loved Cambodian music – super fun.  They posted their entire new album – Cannibal Courtship on this youtube video I’m attempting to attach to this post.  

It’s catchy, light, heavy danceable …  Uku – the third song is my fave. : )  Here’s a vid with that song only: 

The lyric translates:

“The windy season makes me think of my village

I think of the old people, young people, aunts and uncles

We used to run and play, hide and seek

But now we are far apart

Far Apart.”

So lovely and so sad.

Next day we toured the Chinese Garden in downtown Portland – which was surprisingly impressive – it is the most authentic Chinese garden outside of China – stunning actually and we hit it on the first warm spring day, we just lounged and absorbed the sun like a couple of cats.  We also had some fabulous tea in the tea house.

Chinese Garden Portland Oregon
Checkout the walk way - made up of lots of perfectly placed small rocks
Chinese Garden Portland Oregon
Chinese Garden - Portland, OregonWeird Panorama Chinese Garden - Portland, Oregon
Chinese Garden - Portland, Oregon
Weird Panorama Chinese Garden - Portland, Oregon

We hit the Museum of Contemporary Craft a couple blocks away – there was a weaving show – which is a process I don’t really understand so I wasn’t terrible excited until I saw the woman’s clothing which she somehow wove without sewing anything – gorgeous stuff – made me want want want such perfect clothing.  Laurie Merrick

museum of contemporary craft weaving
Laurie MerrickLaurie Merrick Museum of Contemporary Craft Portland
Laurie Merrick Museum of Contemporary Craft
Laurie Merrick Museum of Contemporary Craft Portland

She apparently made this for her main working outfit.  The pocket was for her cigarettes and handkerchiefs.

In the evening we spent time with Tom’s cousins and his childhood friends.  Next day we hit a couple vintage shops in St. Johns and the ever trendy N. Missisippi Historic neighborhood and hit I-5 in time to be home at a reasonable hour. And FYI – if you’re on the road in the northwest, stop at SeQuential – the best gas station around – you can get bio diesel, gluten free sandwiches – that are amazing!  Filtered water, dried mangoes, loose leaf teas …..  all the good hippy stuff..  It’s clean too – yay!  In the summerish time, there are blueberry bushes to snack on. …  The staff is super friendly and seem happy to be there.  Free Wi-Fi – plants growing on the roof…  etc.  Exit 189 if you’re heading North and it might be exit 190 if you’re heading South.  Take the South Eugene exit.  OH – and yeah the price of regular gas was .04 $ higher than their neighbor – which for an 18 gallon tank means you pay $.72 extra.  No big deal.

Friendly Staff at SeQuential

Okay – if you hung around for the end of this post, you are a real trooper.  : ) Home again to my newly spring cleaned studio.  Now that my cup of inspiration is full, tiime to get some creative work done!