Little Q + A: Marcy Rosenblat + Bradley Rubenstein


Marcy Rosenblat was born in Chicago, Illinois, received her B.F.A. from the Kansas City Art Institute and her M.F. A. from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has exhibited at Fordham University, The RawlsMuseum, Galerie Berlin am Meer, Smith College, Oresmon Gallery, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kouros Gallery, Frumkin Gallery,  Art Helix , Centotto, and BCB Art, Hudson NY. Ms. Rosenblat is an Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Bradley Rubenstein: Your paintings are really complex, in the sense that you are layering these veils of color, which could end up being very concrete, like a Morris Louis. But there is something in your choices of arrangement, or when to stop, that sets them into play in a way that I find rare in a lot of abstract painting recently. A lot of painters are content letting the paint just be paint.

Marcy Rosenblat: Interesting observation. I feel as if I’m working with the materiality of the paint, albeit very thinly, but in the end I think I'm looking for more of a transformation, which I guess in a way doesn’t allow the paint to just be paint. For me it has to be more than that. I want a kind of magic. The complexity in the work comes from the layering process. It’s really just the way I get there.

BR: What was it that first interested you about painting? Can you talk a little about your background?

MR: The freedom. I actually have a memory of drawing, lying on my family’s living room floor, my head between the speakers of my parents new stereo system, when it occurred to me that theoretically I could do anything I wanted on that piece of paper. There were no rules and nobody else’s ideas to adhere to. It was a bifurcated feeling of freedom and control.

In art school I started working from observation. My adolescence had been extremely tumultuous, and focusing on a source outside of myself became my coping mechanism. The direction of my work or the subject almost always corresponds directly to what’s going on in my life. Before I started to work from observation I had been off on my own painting at night and sleeping during the day (not a great way to be in college). So painting from observation structured my life. Even the time of day mattered. Then later, when I was at The Kansas City Art Institute, the studios had great natural light, giving me a reason to wake up in the morning and get started. There was also an immediacy and directness that I hadn’t felt in anything before. It really took me out of my head and gave me focus at a time when I needed something concrete.

Although I’ve been working abstractly for the past twenty-five years, all that looking is still very much a part of my current work.

BR: One of the things that is quite interesting about these new paintings (Blue Line and Stars [2014], Orange Midriff [2015]) is how much of a sense of narrative you achieve from such abstract shapes. I was saying earlier how Blue Line and Stars has the sense, to me anyway, of looking through a window in a slasher movie, whereas Orange Midriff evokes Giotto, or, with the drips on the left, the orange shape is like an abstract St. Sebastian.

MR: This goes back to trying to get more out of abstraction. There are some painters that do it incredibly well. For instance, I just saw the Bill Jensen show, and the way he surrenders to the painting process yet takes each painting to a very specific resolution is remarkable.

I’ve always been interested in the implication of shape -- what we think we see and what we don't see. Some abstract painters push away anything referential in their work; contrary to this, I embrace it. I’m allowing overt illusionism to enter the work. Sometimes even photographic illusion creeps in. Although I consider myself to be on the reductive side, in fact, my paintings are rather inclusive.

When you look at a Piero della Francesca, there’s a stillness in the forms that creates the narrative as much as the stories that are depicted. When I look at the center of his Madonna of Mercy (1460–62), of course I see her glance. I also see the choices made in how the belt is tied around her waist, where the folds are placed, the way a hand might peek out of a mass of dark. I feel like these nuanced decisions are what make Piero great. There’s a tension he builds in all of this, and I continue to want that influence.

The painting that reminds you of a slasher movie has the aspect of mystery that happens when looking through a screen or curtain, which is another one of my concerns. Some painters build a painting, adding and subtracting as they go along. I feel like I keep covering the canvas, allowing some layers to be seen and others to be blocked from view. When the process works, the viewer gets some of what I put into it -- the process is a bit scary! Because of the way I lay the paint down, I can’t go back and rework an area. It’s actually a tense situation where it either works or it is a complete disaster and I start over again. Also there are times during the process when I can’t see what’s happening, where the painting is covered with paper towels and I’m blindly making marks with the pressure of my hand.

BR: A lot of those references are clearly derived from looking at a lot of painting. Seeing the reference material on the walls of your studio, you have pictures of Dutch painting, Giotto, Morandi -- in some ways very disparate. But you are taking things from them and reinterpreting them, no? Like Morandi’s vessels…I didn’t make the connection at first.

MR: I think Morandi has a presence like Giotto and Piero. The way Morandi chose the spaces between those vases and bowls -- there’s a lot of humanity contained in those mundane objects of his. I’m drawn to very quiet drama. Something about the way they’re contained resonates for me. Also, all these paintings seem to have a certain distance that keep them removed a bit. You can’t enter them easily. And there’s also the way light functions in all these paintings that I find compelling.

So I paint until I recognize something in my own abstract paintings that speak to all of these concerns.

BR: There is a lot of painting now that is abstract, but in an ironic sort of way, that is getting called “zombie formalism.” I don’t see your work falling into that category. But do you think about that kind of painting, or is it something that you don’t think relates to your work at all?

MR: There's no way of getting around thinking about it if you're actively going to galleries and teach at the college level, as I do. For the most part I don't feel like it’s a good idea to give trends too much consideration. Ultimately it’s really not that important to my work. But you're right; my work is not particularly ironic. My paintings don't really adhere to any one group because they encompass so many categories.

BR: Now that I’ve seen the new paintings, I have to ask: what are you going to be working on next?

MR: I never know what I’m going to do next. It seems like change usually chooses me rather then me choosing to change. At this point I’m still finding new ways to look at these paintings. The process is full of unexpected incidents, and these events keep me moving forward.

domMr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.