Inside Look: Rose Olson’s Rain and Sunshine

Emma Newbery

The maxim that Rose repeats throughout our interview is: “the person you don’t want to bore is yourself.”

I spoke to Rose ahead of her upcoming show Rain and Sunshine, set to open on June 24th in Kingston’s main gallery. We discussed newer elements of her work, especially in the context of her long tenure as a painter.

“I’ve always painted all my life,” she explains. “I can’t change. No matter what my job was, how many hours of teaching I did or whatever I did, I would have to come home and do some work sometime during the evening before I went to bed.”

Over the course of her career, Rose has honed a distinct aesthetic. Using acrylic wash to play with light, movement, and opacity, Rose brings depth to the surface of her seemingly simple works. “When I was younger, I worked on everything: paper, it might be charcoal drawings. It might be anything because I had to work. Now, I work strictly with paint and wood and nothing else because that’s what interests me right now.”

Her upcoming show at Kingston signals a new dimension of this familiar medium. Perhaps reflecting the mercurial social environment, Olson’s show includes works like Red Intrusion, below. The notion of intrusion is something Rose explores deeply in her more recent work. The push and pull that results from the integrity of Rose’s natural canvas meeting the piercing strip of red that truncates its base is a relationship she relishes.

Rose Olson, Red Intrusion, acrylic on wood, 20”x 30”x 2”, 2019.

“I love what I’m doing right now,” adds Rose. “A lot of it is new because of blocks of colors. And the color is quite heavy. But it doesn’t eliminate the grain of the wood, which is very important to me when I’m painting.” 

Rose goes on to explain the importance of maintaining the integrity of the surface on which she paints. It’s as much a part of the painting as the materials that cover it: “The grain of the wood is something that I respect. So I try to make it clear. I try to make it available for the viewer to see no matter what color is over it.”

“A grain is unique,” she says. “They’re like our fingerprints, so no two are alike.”

Rose Olson, Violet Calm, acrylic on wood, 2020.

Within this medium, Rose’s work retains its fluidity. “Sometimes I’ll look at a painting that I had done and it bores me, so I will go back and work on it. So I guess they never end,” she muses. Five minutes before our interview, she made a final adjustment to a recent work titled Violet Calm, left. “I just finished a painting now that I had started earlier and it needed something desperately and I wasn’t sure what it needed. And I just discovered that it needed a golden band. So I put it in. It’s just a slim band and it enhances the grain as it goes up.”

Once she has finished a piece, Rose strives to keep the viewer’s experience of her work dynamic. “The colors keep changing continually, which is important to me. Also, when the work is on the wall, there’s the light going from one end of the room to the other that continually changes the colors, because there are so many layers of color and the light will pick up one layer after another.”

Rose did not cultivate this dynamic approach alone. She credits a shared workspace and creative process with her interest in the ongoing nature of her work. “My husband was a writer. He wrote poetry. We would very often stop our work and I would show him my work.”

Creating side-by-side elevated both of their processes. “When he would start reading his poetry, I would say, you know, it’s not quite there yet,” Rose recalls. “Then, all of the sudden, he would do it. It would be right there and I would get the goosebumps and I would say, stop. This is it. You’ve made it. You know, you don’t want it any different than this.”

While her husband passed recently, she continues to find motivation through these memories of collaboration: “My husband died suddenly three years ago, and that is a blow to me. It’s overwhelming,” says Rose.

“But,” she maintains, “it doesn’t stop me from painting.”

Rose Olson, Swirl, acrylic on wood, 12”x 12”x 1”, 2019.

Swirl is shot through with two, thick lines of red, lending the work a different feel than Red Intrusion possesses. The color pushes against the grain of the wood, and the whorls through which it slices seem to bend in protest, or perhaps in welcoming. The paler, nearly iridescent wide stroke of violet below lends a tactile element to the piece. Beneath the lines, straight and firm, it almost serves as the memory of a hand has followed their course, leaving behind an imprint. The work, like its maker, is pushing at the boundaries, suggesting a sense of continuance, and of potential chaos.

In addition to her career as a painter, Rose also taught for many years, spurring on her students in the same way she pushed her husband and continues to push herself.

“I don’t think there was anything that I didn’t like, and I don’t think there was a student that I didn’t like,” she recalls. “I pushed them very hard. I wanted them to create something uniquely theirs, and I think they understood that because we would both get excited.”

Rose encouraged her students to trust their unique perspective on shared, human experiences rather than attempting to break away from artists who inspired them. “Sometimes you can try to copy something, just so you understand what, what colors that person is using,” she explains, “but they’ll never come out the way that person uses them. They’ll come out the way you use them. You find yourself doing it in such a unique way.”

“That is, it becomes exciting to you because we are all different from each other,” she adds. “That quality within each person is very important to me.”

Rose Olson, triptych. From left to right: Canals of Mars, Martian Sky, Martian Water, all acrylic on wood, 20”x 20” X 1.5”, 2020.

Ultimately, Rose views painting as a deeply personal, emotional experience that turns one’s internal experience outwards to face the world. “Whatever you are, whatever your passion is at the moment, whatever you see out there comes through in the work.”

“Whether you’re a painter or you put it into poetry and words, the way my husband used to, when it hits just right, that’s it. You get the goosebumps and that’s when you know.”

In any creative pursuit, Rose concludes: “When something is real, it’s it. It just affects you completely.”

Recognition and Care: New Paintings by Jamie Bowman

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Jamie Bowman enlivens the practice of traditional figurative painting with her exhibition Portraits, on view at Kingston Gallery through February 28. This series of small-scale works depict the nurses who care for Bowman’s mother, who was paralyzed in an accident a year IMG_0251ago. Doubtless, complex emotions accompany the fallout from such an extreme and unfortunate accident. This series is significant for recognizing the people who became a part of her life.

The paintings also record what can come of creativity in times of crisis. The artist chose to represent each nurse as an individual engaged in quiet reflection, rather than relating to others and in action, as Bowman likely got to know them. While she became acquainted with her subjects through their profession, these portraits demonstrate the psychological intimacy that can come about in the process of direct representation.

Models can significantly influence the outcome of a work of art. They bear witness to its process, and even as silent, unstirring, paid professionals, their presence can inform choices in an artist’s mark-making. In this case, the models arrive first as part of a support system, then become models. Their significance often comes across in the IMG_0253portraits. Bowman’s charcoal drawings focus directly on the faces of each person. We associate nurses as being in constant motion, even when exhausted, their job is to care–both as an action and as a discipline. These images allow us to contemplate what thoughts and images may be on each nurse’s mind as they sit for the artist. By creating these portraits, Bowman bears witness to the value they play in the life of her family as her mother recovers. They acknowledge that she sees them as people beyond the function of their job.

Bowman is an Associate Member of Kingston Gallery. Based in Boston, she has shown widely, including at the Danforth Art Museum, Framingham, MA, First Street Gallery, NYC, and Walter Feldman Gallery, Boston, MA. Bowman has a MA in Studio Teaching from Boston University, Boston, MA, an MFA in Painting from the University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH, and a BFA in Painting from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, NY.

 

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In Case You Missed It: Greg Lookerse

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An aerial view of Greg Lookerse’s recent exhibition, Everything is God to Me and Everything is Dust to Me, at Kington Gallery.

Greg Lookerse‘s solo exhibition, Everything is God to Me and Everything is Dust to Me, at Kingston Gallery from December 2-27, concluded his experience as the gallery’s Emerging Artist in 2015. His exhibition demonstrated a compelling balance of craftsmanship and philosophical inquiry.

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Greg Lookerse at his performance,  when all the ice in the world melts maybe it will leave a beautiful mark, in conjunction with Kingston’s September 2015 exhibition, All Natural.

Inspired by books by Annie Dillard and Teilhard de Chardin, (find details on our website), Lookerse created a space where he regularly performed a ritual of teaching a stone to talk. Within the hexagonal structure, he papered the gallery floor with pages from Dillard’s book, Teaching a Stone to Talk. The gallery lights fell upon the pages layered in a grid so precisely arranged that it precluded any question of whether, by taking the book apart and putting the pages on the floor, he may mean any disrespect. Rather, the pages suggested an invitation to read the book in an alternative way, as though we may be able to enter the space to scan the entire text at once. Over time, the pages became covered in spatters of black ink, obscuring the words and providing visual traces suggesting the many times the artist lifted the stone from where it sat in a vat of ink. He also marked each attempt to teach the stone with small ticks on a calendar.

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Installation view, Everything is God to Me and Everything is Dust to Me, Kingston Gallery, December 2015.

Accompanying this arrangement was a series of altar stones (stones carved to contain a mixture of charcoal and raw honey), displayed in glass cloches. To provide further background into his thoughts, Lookerse’s artist statement is also in this post.

Ambitious, thoughtful, and talented, Greg often provided a voice of calm clarity among the membership. We wish him the very best in his promising career.

Artist Statement

Everything is God to Me and Everything is Dust to Me

My work is always inspired by literature. As an avid reader I often find the need to explore the author’s ideas in a less narrative and more visual manner.

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Altar Stone, 2015, stone, charcoal, raw honey, glass cloche

This series of sculptures and durational performance space form a body of work that continues my practice of contemplating literature.
Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Everything is God to me; everything is dust to me…” in his book The Divine Miliue. As the driving concept behind this body of work the paradoxical notions of faith and doubt collide. To the devoted theologian a rock with black honey may stand for a symbol of a god’s providence, a miracle, or perhaps a god itself. To the skeptic it is just a stone with honey in it.

The most fascinating part of this dichotomy is that both views find meaning in the stones; whether because of a transcendent interpretation or because of an aesthetic transformation.
In a similar narrative, author Annie Dillard describes a man living on an island who keeps a small stone under a piece of leather on a shelf. When he is alone he performs a ritual to teach the stone to talk. In her book Teaching A Stone to Talk she reflects upon this ritual:

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Altar Stone, 2015, stone, charcoal, raw honey, glass cloche


“I assume that like any other meaningful effort, the ritual involves sacrifice, the suppression of self-consciousness, and a certain precise tilt of the will, so that the will becomes transparent and hollow, a channel for the work. I wish him well. It is a noble work, and beats, from any angle, selling shoes.”

Perhaps materials and items hold transcendent meaning. Perhaps they are simply things human beings can mold or shape. Either way, the actions and rituals we perform with these objects changes us and our perceptions of them. The cell is ready for me to enter and the materials are waiting.

-Greg Lookerse, 2015

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Alter Stones, 2015, stone, charcoal, raw honey, glass cloches.

Q&A with Sarah Meyers Brent: Flowers, Repurposing Objects, and Working through Life’s Messes

Dripping Plant II, detail.
Dripping Plant II, detail.
Sarah and I met at the gallery on the first day of her exhibition, Salvaged Garden (open July 1 – August 2, 2015) to discuss her work. Although the Center Gallery is not a particularly large space, her works made it seem so, with an installation and two large paintings looking sharp as all get-out.

SDG: Artists such as Rebecca Louise Law take flowers into a sculptural profusion that fills the exhibition space. Your profusion is rooted into abstract painting, even the installations. Tell us about your relationship with painting, and what it has meant to you to expand into installation.

SMB: Ultimately, I want to create an exhibition that has everything. There’s something alluring about that blank rectangle, and I am a painter first, but I also like to see the different ways that the forms I create translate into space. I am working on a few sculptures now in the studio, using similar materials, and look forward to showing them in the near future.

SDG: Your installations have received positive media attention in the past few months, including coverage by Cate McQuaid in the Boston Globe and in Artscope Magazine by Sarah Kinkade. Other than the evident quality and beauty of your work, do you think that the issues you deal with, or perhaps they way you work are having a moment in our cultural imagination?

SMB: I work with repurposed, recycled materials. I love them not just because of the environmental message they contain, but also because they look so cool. I am likely one of many artists out there asking, why put new crap in the world if we can use the old stuff?

I think that STUFF has even more power than ever now because of all of the digital matter we process every day. Actual things really speak to us, their physicality. I love seeing the combinations I can create, and I almost feel like I’m cheating when I put things I’m working on up on the wall-wire, cloth, and floral material-and they look so appealing, organic, and plastic.

“Salvaged Garden” (left) and “Ode to Pregnancy” installed at Kingston Gallery

SDG: I appreciate it when smart, driven artists like yourself openly engage motherhood in their work. It enables viewers to align motherhood with creativity and productivity outside of running a household. What kind of feedback have you received about works such as Ode to Pregnancy or Mommy Love Me, in conjunction with their titles?

SMB: Painting is like therapy for me, and whatever I’m thinking about makes its way into my work. I had two ridiculously dramatic pregnancies, and I am still working through the emotions. My youngest is just seven months old, and the power of the sensations and what a mess babies are is still very much a reality for me.

Many different emotions come up when people view this work, both positive and negative. Teens LOVED the painting “Ode to Pregnancy” when it was exhibited at the Danforth Art Museum. They were curious about the process, i.e. “what IS that, a painting or a sculpture? How did she make it bulge like that?” People have asked whether it depicts a miscarriage, and that becomes a touchy subject. I use my artistic process to work through the mess of life, and ultimately arrive at a form that I find really beautiful, even if not in the traditional sense. That is the point of my art: to capture that simultaneous beauty and ugliness; growth and decay.

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Detail, “Salvaged Garden,” photo by Elevin Studios.

SDG: As you work, do you make decisions in an organic or intuitive response to the materials, or do you plan how things will go in advance? Do you work in a sketchbook before or while working on a new piece?

SMB: I work on paintings differently than on installations. My paintings evolve as I work, often turning out very differently from how they began. I respond to the materials and the forms as I go, and I like that. I work on the floor a lot, and the paint moves around as I work.

This installation at Kingston was initially designed for a different space, and since then I have reworked it for other spaces. I begin by sketching the overall forms, and as I build it, it grows and changes within the limitations of the space. The organic materials grow and move, and I fix them with wire, but they still do their own thing and surprise me.

SDG: Which artists inspire you? Could you recommend anyone’s work we should have a look at?

SMB: Expressionist artists such as Joan Snyder; particularly her collages and flowers.That is why I love the Danforth Art Museum. Also Joan Mitchell, Lynda BenglisFrank Auerbach, and Chaim Soutine. Contemporary artists I look at include Summer Wheat, Julia-Fernandez Pol, Cecily Brown, and Lauren Rice.

Sarah with her installation at Kingston Gallery.
Sarah with her installation at Kingston Gallery.
SDG: Where can we see your work next?

SMB: I am in the second annual pop-up exhibition at Flock Gallery in Manchester, New Hampshire. The opening reception is Thursday, July 23 at 5:00pm – 8:00pm, and the exhibit runs July 23-28th.

I have a solo exhibition at the Danforth Art Museum in the main center space from March 6 to May 16, 2016. For that exhibition, I will reinstall an archway piece and create a site-specific piece for an alcove. I’ll have news about another group exhibition in the near future as well.

You can follow Sarah on twitter @sarahbrent and on her website: sarahartist.com.

From Hide to Skin: Michèle Fandel Bonner

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Hide III, 2014, clothing labels and cotton/linen backing fabric.

Today is the final day to see Michèle Fandel Bonner’s show, Time and Materials, at Kingston’s Center Gallery. She takes upcycling to new levels, transforming her own hair into a sculpture that makes the gradual effects of time visible in one elegant tangle, and in her hands, 114 discarded t-shirts become a neat row of crocheted baskets. In her hands, discarded materials become new objects that glow with the attractive aura of “brand-new.” This ability translates into a source of hope, order, and self-reflection, interrupting the typical path of overflow that, uninterrupted, often ends in trash heaps. Indeed, Bonner pulls much of her source material from rejected clothing at the Lifebridge Homeless Shelter in Salem, MA.

Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.
Michèle Fandel Bonner, Empty Nesting Baskets, 2015, recycled t-shirts, 18.5 X 18.5 X 12 inches.

The stand-out piece is in this exhibition is Hide III, part of a series of three overtly faux animal skins made from clothing labels on linen and cotton backing. Her Hides interrogate our drive to purchase new clothing before older items are worn out. She says the work “addresses how we use clothing to both hide and express ourselves.” This message hits home for me, as I own more than my fair share of J.Crew cardigans, and I don’t see that habit stopping anytime in the near future.

Bonner sources tags from clothes that are past even their thrift-shop days. The clothing is on its way to a fiber recycler to be shredded. To see the tags beautifully patchworked into a “trophy” in her Hide series is the closest I may ever come to understanding how hunters feel when they view animal trophies. It may feel harmless and even virtuous to “hunt down” sales at TJ Maxx, but Bonner wryly, and with virtuoso stitching, offers a reminder of the accumulating effects of compulsive consumption.

The conversation is ongoing, as indicated by a couple of recent blog posts. Denaye Benahona wrote about getting rid of her entire wardrobe on April 20 (she bought more, but much less and better clothes). I’ve recently shared another blog post by the brilliant Betsy Greer, but her April 24 article about Fashion Revolution Day is even more apt and a must-read on this subject. Marking the two-year anniversary of the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh that killed over 1,000 people and is considered the “deadliest garment factory accident in history (Wikipedia),” Greer’s article suggests that we mend clothing before discarding it and take note of all that our clothing labels signify.

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Yuken Teryua, Corner Forest, sourced from yukenteruyastudio.com

Yuken Teruya’s impossibly delicate sculptures from fast-food bags and cardboard toilet paper rolls offer an initial message of hope and regeneration. However, they also tell us that recycling isn’t enough. Despite their potential, not every used-up roll, empty Burger King bag, or discarded shirt will become works of art. There are just too many. We are beyond recycling. Our resulting feelings of bleakness and discomfort may be productive, as awareness and acknowledgement may lead us to stop repeating ourselves, to resist the urge to buy more, and to remember the impact of things we toss away.

-Shana Dumont Garr