Former D.C. Artist is Showcased in McLean
McLean Project for the Arts features the work of Seth Rosenberg
“… Like the relationship between abstract and figurative painting throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries, Rosenberg’s oeuvre is enriched with concurrently parallel and contrasting visual currents,” Margo Ann Crutchfield, curator.
On display in the Emerson Gallery at the McLean Project for the Arts (MPA) is “Seth Rosenberg: The Cleveland Years.” A prolific painter during the last four years of his life, the artist used this time to grow and transition from an abstract to a figurative painter.
The select works in the exhibit typify Rosenberg’s style during his Cleveland years. According to Crutchfield, his earlier work of 2005 to 2006 was “bold with color and dynamism and shapes with patterning … [he] juxtaposed different patterns to make [each] work into a cohesive whole.” Over time he began to experiment and change by incorporating found images and altering his palette. Scientific illustration, antique graphics, numbers and words began to appear in his pieces. Bold colors were replaced by muted tones hinting of a nostalgic sepia from the WPA period.
Rosenberg’s paintings are replete with personal and social references. The scientific imagery and dissected body parts are an homage to his father, who was a scientist. The word “Vietnam” and maps of the country refer to Eli, Rosenberg's adopted Vietnamese son. Repeated patterns using frames harken back to the artist’s days in D.C. when he owned a framing shop. Rosenberg’s vast collection of WPA prints and the Social Realists influenced some of his figures and tones. All these images are collaged, using patterns to tie them together.
“These images are taken from various sources,” Crutchfield said. “I see his work as a collision because there is so much going on … [The work] is anchored in a command of composition …The work is full of energy … active, mind, active imagination and active world.”
Rosenberg was focused on a career as an artist from a young age. Upon leaving his hometown of Stamford, Conn., he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Kent State University in 1975 and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of North Carolina in 1979 before moving to Washington, D.C. In order to support himself while painting, Rosenberg opened a framing shop in a converted warehouse and eventually the gallery District Fine Arts in Georgetown.
During his Washington period, Rosenberg was primarily an abstract painter. He “was an exceptional abstract painter … He had exhibitions at the Arlington Arts Center, the Corcoran, and is in a number of private collections … and embassies,” Crutchfield said.
Besides painting, Rosenberg and his wife Jane spent much of their time helping other artists by hosting gatherings and shows in their space. He would never display his own work in the gallery.
Sharon Fishel, the MPA ArtReach Director, showed her work at District Fine Arts. She said, “[It] was a wonderful gallery he and Jane created. A community of artists, some who had shown in galleries and some who hadn’t had the opportunity to show. He wanted to give back to the community. He was sympathetic and generous and well-educated. He was key in selecting the work in his gallery. He and Jane both shared the experience.”
Artist Jeffrey Smith also remembers Rosenberg’s generosity: “He let me make prints for a show. Their openings were open and family-friendly … kids there … everything was OK. Where the nose rings meet the tasseled loafers.”
The year 2005 brought great change to the Rosenbergs. After Jane’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they decided to sell their D.C. business and move to Cleveland. With the money they had earned from the sale, Rosenberg was finally able to completely devote himself to his painting.
Moving to Cleveland was “a chance for him to paint full-time ... and he became an important part of the Cleveland art community. [He]brought people together,” Crutchfield said.
During the next four years, Rosenberg diligently worked, refining his craft and creating numerous paintings and prints. Then in 2009, only three months after receiving a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship from the Cleveland Partnership for Arts and Culture, he died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 57.
The current exhibit at the MPA provides an opportunity for those in D.C. who knew Rosenberg to see his final works, and for those who did not know him, to see the paintings of a talented artist.
Seth Rosenberg: The Cleveland Years, McLean Project for the Arts, McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave.
Sept. 15 through Nov. 5