Sophisticated paintings and flowing charcoal drawings give us a whimsical look at life’s everyday heroics as it archives a personal history.

By Andy Muonio, MFA

Recently on view at The Mohr Gallery, in Mountain View’s Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA, http://arts4all.org/attend/mohrgallery.htm), were the works of Norm Rosenberger, entitled: Pancakes, Coffee and Heroic Actions, Paintings and Drawings by Norm Rosenberger. This Oakland based painter gives us a look at his life through ten charcoal drawings and ten acrylic paintings.

Each charcoal drawing is made with confident and powerful strokes. The marks flow, maintaining the gestural ease of their execution, yet each image is carefully composed.  The drawings include both bold, thick and thin black lines as well as a softer touch creating a range of value. Line is important to these works, as value drops back, to a careful limit of marks defining objects. The viewer is first drawn to the boldness of the lines, but the subtlety of the drawing’s entirety, moves them about the entire space.

Snail Parade 11.17.07, 2007

Self Portrait 09.27.10, 2010

The paintings reflect the careful formal composition of the drawings and their confident marks, adding a powerful understanding of color.  There is a touch of Post-Impressionism with an almost Fauvist palette in these images, with complex color harmonies. The artist takes advantage of color interactions in his mix of closed color fields and optically bouncing patterns of brush strokes. The hues are a vibrant arbitrary selection that hint at typical color in perhaps the flesh and the blue jeans, but then one finds a purple sidewalk and blue hardwood floors.

Kitchen Table, 2010

The narrative of each has a connection to everyday life: the kitchen that doubles as a studio, a clothes line, building stretcher bars, other artists at work, local trips and wanderings.  It is a visual documentation of  Norm Rosenberger’s world and he does this in a style that hints at Max Beckmann but with a much lighter touch.  It is whimsical and inviting in comparison to Beckmann’s angst, but the distortion of figures and the use of color fields within enclosed hard lines, in an off-kilter near-surreal environment, make a connection.  His figures are distorted with a comical characterization that suits the happy-go-lucky motif of the exhibition.  It is a different stylization of the human figure than we see with Beckmann, but the aesthetic matches Rosenberger’s idea of everyday life.  Rosenberger’s playfulness abounds with the extremely large hands busy in activity or the over-sized heads on thin bodies content in their situation.  The figures, all in the act of movement (including the cats), are distorted but still maintain the knowledge of anatomy behind their stylization.

Rosenberger’s way of seeing and working results in aesthetic of every day heroics.

Laundry Day, 2010 and Table with Chairs, 2010

Within the whimsy of the work is a charming quality.  This is helped by the careful formal structure of the pieces and the execution of the work.  The busy figures in these images are all briskly moving to life with a certain passion – the snails of Snail Parade 11.17.07 have this gusto.  Even the works that have no human figures display an inherent energy.  The drawing, Houseboats 09.28.10, has two-story structures both stable and floating on the water.  Rosenberger’s matrix of hard lines define the boats and soft values define their reflections in the rolling waters.

House Boats 09.27.10, 2010

Rosenberger undertakes  portraying the artist as the common man in his drawings and paintings.  It defies any notion of the artist as a lone eccentric genius. It shows that, yes, artists are just like everyone else; they have pet cats, go on camping trips and have to do their laundry. This is their life. Rosenberger says in his artist statement: “Everyone can draw,” this may be true, but to create a body of work such as this takes a dedicated individual willing to put the time, effort and serious study into the effort.  This understanding that great art is not born, but made, results in wonderful works. Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is highly overrated. If you sit around and wait for the clouds to part, it’s not liable to ever happen. More often than not work(ing) is salvation.”  This show reveals an artist who has worked hard to produce a substantial body of work done in a relatively short period of time.

Stretcher Building, 2010

Pancakin in Great Outdoors, 2010

The archive: Rosenberger describes his work in his artist statement as “like postcards or snapshot pictures or a diary.” This archive of imagery, images transposed or cataloged and presented, is a contemporary theme that runs along his “everyday” motif.  Artists such as Gerhard Richter used an archive of imagery to such an extent that he presented it as a work of art in itself. Rosenberger’s notion of the archive is more similar to another contemporary painter, Peter Doig. Doig, like Rosenberger, is expressing his view of the everyday experience. Though unlike him in technique and resource material (Doig uses photography of his own, as well as his friends and images of popular culture and the media, Rosenberger works from sketches and his imagination) he is archiving the personal “now” that becomes part of the cultural annals.

Linda Covello the Art School Director at the Community School of Music and Arts curates the Mohr Gallery. The Community School of Music and Arts is a thirty-plus-years institution on the San Francisco Peninsula that teaches Art and Music classes at their campus at the Finn Center in Mountain View as well as numerous public and private schools in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

Andy Muonio holds a Masters of Fine Arts from San Jose State University. He teaches drawing and painting courses at The Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA and is an active figure painter and printmaker at his studio in San Jose’s Japantown.

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