James Rosen’s paintings at the Graduate Theological Union library are called “Homage.” They are indeed in praise of the old masters as chosen by the painter, who sees himself as a messenger, detecting his signals from the past so that he can employ his artistic talent to send them on to us, the viewers. Rosen, like all good artists, is aware that his work is part of a flow which goes back to Paleolithic times.
His paintings are metaphors transporting meaning from one place to another. They transfer the selected works from the past to our current attention and delectation. The art he has chosen as the source of his own painting is selected largely on impulse, which itself is founded on long years of looking at art and on his work as artist and teacher. Among the painters he has honored by reassembling their work, are Giotto, Duccio, Piero della Francesca, Titian, Veronese, Chardin and Courbet. The current show at CTU includes homages to Sassetta, Poussin, Albert Pinkham Ryder as well as Gruenewald and the Master of Avignon.
Concurrently with the show in Berkeley he has an exhibition at the Paule Anglim Gallery in San Francisco, which is based entirely on paintings by Walt Kuhn, an early 20th century modernist painter who had been responsible for finding the European artists to participate in the seminal Armory Show of 1913. Homages to Matthias Gruenewald’s Crucifixion from the Isenheim Altarpiece and the Pieta d’Avignon, painted by an unknown French artist in the middle of the 15th Century, are the centerpieces in the Berkeley exhibition. The latter, a masterpiece which I have often admired in the Louvre, shows the body of Christ, lamented by Mary , Magdalene and St.John, with the donor kneeling in prayer below the figure of St. John and an image of Jerusalem in the background.
Rosen’s pictures, done in wax-oil emulsion are painted in a great many layers and executed over a long period of time. When the artist spoke at GTU he mentioned the inumerable strokes which he brushed onto the picture, but they are no longer visible in the finished work, which sets him in great contrast to the Action Painters who dominated the art world when he was a student.
The complete work has a strong physical presence to which Rosen refers to as an “event.” It takes time and quiet attention to see these paintings, to allow the image to emerge gradually from the many layers of veils which the painter has used to reveal the painting by concealing it. But, gradually,the light which is embedded in the layers of paint emerges and permits us to be astonished by the work.
JAMES ROSEN: HOMAGE
Through Jan. 25 at the GTU Flora Lamson Hewlett Library, 2400 Ridge Road.
Image: James Rosen’s Pieta d’Avignon.