Seymour Rosofsky

Richard Gray Gallery

According to Jewish tradition, allegiance to a Patriarch gives focus to individual lives, and thus any man can be part of a larger social pact. But this traditional arrangement is overturned in Seymour Rosofsky’s recent paintings, which take their subject matter from Jewish legend and myth. For example, a female-bodied, bearded “Patriarch” lies in a Torah niche and ponders toy temple symbols that seem to drift in a little decorative pool. Or, a wide-eyed, “Patriarch” doll lies on the belly of a questionably sexed baby who purses its mouth and struts a cigarette. Transsexualism, in these paintings, might signify a figure’s latent wisdom of both sexes, but dominating everything is a strong, pervasive sluggishness which emits a vanquished come-what-may.

Now that Rosofsky’s “children of the tribe” are symbolically free of traditional values, they must fulfill themselves entirely on their own. Pages are unrolled from a family’s life, houses cut open and flipped back, the semblance of time passes through the variations in one character on a scroll from left to right. Like a Jewish story, each representation is an exemplary situation which could apply to any person, place, or time. Trades are practiced, homes maintained, families provided for, community burdens shared. Bodies look sound; everyone has built within his station. Unfortunately, loss of spirit is perennial in every cycle.

Rosofsky’s characters look empty, deprived, impotent, resigned, oversecure, martyred, self-pitying, and unfree. They show little separation from the objects they live with. Eyeless, masklike faces fade into wingless doves on living-room wallpaper patterns. Feet are cut off beneath monster television sets. Kitchens are tinged by empty shoes. Women are overshadowed by the spirit heads of husbands long gone. Sweets are carried on a tray, but never eaten. Husbands freeze as faceless salesmen prepare to finagle some further, unidentifiable “more.” Artists’ models are trapped in flower-inundated palettes, while artists’ swaddled bodies contrast with bizarre, made-up faces. A seashell underneath a chair, an empty dollhouse, and floating dollbaby are Granny’s lost youth, while houses with boarded windows loom like humanity’s waiting death. And in every instance, painting technique reinforces the general mood: dry, thick, scumbled acrylic carries on a dry airlessness; yellow, pink, and green rest unshaken on every desiccated face.

Rosofsky is not poking fun, raising a moralistic finger, or even crying for social reform. His matter-of-fact madness looks as natural as the falling snow. He paints a scene where something was supposed to happen, where some things might be happening, but where joy, commitment, and personal authenticity are lost. Rosofsky stands aside and points: the containers are all there, but they have nothing for which to live.

C.L. Morrison