Alex Rosmarin, in the Continuum
Alex Rosmarin is an old friend and a great artist. His show at Swee(t)Art Drawing Gallery begins Aug. 14th. 1167 65th street. Oakland. – obi.
Obi: I remember when we were about 15 and the collection of Art Books you had in your dorm room at school was better than the one in the school library. Where does that come from in you? At what point are you as much a student as an artist, per se? That is to ask, how does you studies influence your work?
Alex: OK, a bit of history to explain the piles of art books: I got interested in the history of painting via comics and fantasy art. I discovered comics beyond the usual superhero stuff when I was in junior high – “Love and Rockets,” “RAW,” R. Crumb, “Krazy Kat,” Moebius, Bill Sienkiewicz, manga, etc… It wasnʼt hard to see connections between “Krazy Kat” and Miro, or Crumb and 30ʼs Picasso. By the time I finished 9th grade in Austin my favorite books in the school library were the Picasso MoMA catalog, “Shock of the New” by Robert Hughes, and “The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics.” The Picasso book showed how he arrived at his innovations in a step-by-step manner, building on his previous work. I was also impressed by his ability to jump between different styles. The Hughes book gave me historical context for modern art. The Smithsonian book showed me how wild and different the comics of the past were, and pointed the way towards to the comics of today, from Chris Ware to ʻKramers Ergot.’
By the time I met you, I had developed a voracious appetite for modern art. I was experiencing it as a series of massive shocks to my worldview. Discovering artists like Klee and Rauschenberg was fun! and shocking! and educational! and mind expanding! Just like discovering the Velvet Underground or John Coltrane. “Studies” sounds so serious… Iʼve just always been a huge, huge fan of art of all kinds. I canʼt imagine loving an artistʼs work and not wanting to know more about it, what they thought about it, how they made it, who influenced them, who they influenced in turn, how they learned…
Iʼve always made art because Iʼm such a huge fan of art. I have no problem being influenced by other artists, I want to be MORE influenced by other artists. Itʼs absurd to think that good and/or original work out of ignorance of what others have done, in fact the opposite is true. I spend much of my time consciously teaching myself how to draw and paint better. I donʼt ever want to be satisfied with the way my works look. Art serves as a measure for my work and a spur to work harder. I lift ideas and transform them into something unrecognizable. I think about what Iʼm NOT seeing that I would like to see, and what Iʼve been too timid to attempt.
Obi: You are going to be the first solo show at the Swee(t)Art Drawing Gallery next month. What can we expect from that show? I know you are showing at Art Beat on Solano too in September…How do the two shows differentiate from one another or are they part of a larger continuum?
Alex: I do see all of my work as a continuum. The big, obvious difference is that the Swee(t)art show will be all drawings and the Artbeat show will be all, or mostly, paintings. This is not just a difference of materials. Making drawings is fairly direct and intuitive for me; over the course of my life Iʼve spent far more time drawing than painting. If I was restricted to drawing for the rest of my life, Iʼd be OK with it. I paint because color brings out emotional shadings that I canʼt access in drawing, but painting is a far slower process than drawing for me, so I canʼt be as impulsive. Itʼs a dilemma I donʼt expect to resolve.
Obvious difference #2 – there will be a lot of nudity in the drawings, not so much in the paintings. While nudity is typically seen as an exceptional state, Iʻve drawn so many nudes over the years that I intuitively see nudity as normal and clothing as plumage or costume.
I spent the last couple years practicing, practicing, practicing… learning perspective, how to make things look three dimensional, how to paint from life, how to compose groups of figures etc… At some point this past winter, I found myself unable to continue down that path. I was drawing imaginary viaducts and monasteries for practice, while all the other reasons I make art were being neglected. The time had some to take what I had learned and use it to express some raw seething emotion. I make an entire scene to create a mood, in the way that a dream evokes a complex of emotion that is very real, while not making much literal sense. The process is dream-like, bringing together real elements and letting the coevolving relationships between them generate the picture. This isnʼt at all passive, I can steer or fight where it is going, but that is part of the process as well.
A grove of trees at dusk, animals padding by in the periphery, distant surf muffling a conversation I want to hear…
A ragged line of people climbing a ridge towards me, a plain stretches blow, smoke from a distant fire links the earth and the sky, a flock of migrating bisects the scene…
A sea of fire doesnʼt burn, it tickles like feathers, an in egg in my hand, an overhang, a cave behind me, unknown depths like the cold black body of a lake…
Couples writhe about each other, put down roots, sprout leaves, silhouettes erupt into three dimensions, prone bodies bleed patterns onto the ground…
Ancient robots become apartments, their descendants serve and protect us…
Artbeat is getting the light, Iʼm giving you the darkness.
Obi: You were driven by mysterious forces to that basement studio you still live in off Piedmont Ave. Walk me through any given day in the life of Alex Rosmarin. How many times a week do you do the life drawing? Describe these forces that continue to hold and sustain you in Oakland. What is you secret to a stable life?
Alex: Not so mysterious! Great location, cheap rent, abundant space, cool roommates, AND coffee, comics, and fresh produce are all only a block away! Iʼve lived in the Bay Area for most of my life, it feels like home. As my work becomes more spatial, it becomes clear that the landscapes of my work are the landscapes that surround me, filtered through 37 years of fallible memory.
Oakland feels homey to me, funky and ramshackle, like a big messy backyard. My secret to a stable life? I settled on what I want to do at an early age – plus lots of hiking & bicycling, making peace with myself, adding garlic & tomatoes & kale to everything I cook, and friends.
Assuming Iʼm not working, a typical day goes like this: 8am. Wake up, get coffee at Gaylords. Putter, clean, read the web. More coffee. Start drawing, my hands feel like flippers, itʼs awful, Iʼm the worst artist ever. OK, I need to warm up. Do warm up studies, start feeling a little better, work on the show. Still slow and creaky. Look at a Moebius book for inspiration, get back to work, get hungry, stop for lunch. Try to draw, slip into a food coma, take a nap. Pull myself together, drink some iced coffee, walk my roommateʼs dog, draw, paint. Now weʼre rolling! Drawdrawdraw, paintpaintpaint. 8pm. Loose art everywhere, room looks lie a bomb went off, I’m totally fried. Hit the gym, get out of my head for 45 minutes. Go home, make dinner, more web, a little more drawing. Get in bed, read comics or something science-related, go to sleep, the end.
I go to at least one 3 hour life drawing session and one 3 hour painting from life each week, and if Iʼm on a roll Iʼll double it. In the early 00ʼs I had an especially obsessive life-drawing practice. I went in one artist and emerged as another. It transformed my work, from the way I held my tools to my kinesthetic sense of weight and balance. I keep doing it because a live model is an existential challenge I canʼt fudge, or reduce, or otherwise negotiate away. Cute stylistic tricks, old habits, formulaic methods wonʼt do. Reality demands more, and if I canʼt do it justice, all the better, because Iʼll never stop learning
Life drawing is invaluable for anyone who works with the figure. To forgo it because it seems old fashioned or because of the endless learning curve involved is to cheat yourself and your art. I couldnʼt do what I do without it.
Obi: What metal are you listening to these days?
Alex: Converge has been the big one for me lately. I was on the fence about them for years, but their most recent album won me over, and their recent show at Slimʼs totally blew me away. Since then Iʼve been listening to their last four albums constantly. The imagery and themes in their lyrics, and the way Jacob Bannonʼs design works with the music have been an inspiration to me while I worked on these drawings. Other stuff Iʼve been rocking lately (some more hardcore or straight-up rock than metal, but whatever): Slayer, Earth, Helmet, Morbid Angel, Entombed, Black Sabbath, Cave In, Coalesce, Gojira, Celtic Frost, Motorhead, Melvins, Sepultura, Pig Destroyer, Kylesa, Enslaved, Asunder.
To close out, some great songs by bands who could be on the above list:
“Corporal Jigsaw Quandary” by Carcass (from “Necrotism: Descanting the Insalubriant”), “Bastard Samurai” by High on Fire (from “Snakes for the Divine”), “Bleak” by Opeth (from “Blackwater Park”), “Lions” by Doomriders (from “Darkness Come Alive”), “Tyrants” by Immortal (from “Sons of Northern Darkness”).