Sandy Rosen

Toni Birckhead Gallery

Visitors to Cincinnati artist Sandy Rosen’s most recent show were invited to take off their shoes and enter the living room, dining room, bedroom, and sitting room of the apartment she had created in the gallery. But to do so seemed almost a violation of some kind. The rooms already seemed intensely inhabited, though only vestiges of their residents were strewn throughout the spaces. It was like wandering through the second story of a near-stranger’s house, in search of a bathroom at a party—your eyes fall on cluttered dressing tables or bookshelves and you turn away in embarrassment, before looking again with the enthusiasm of a true voyeur.

This feeling persisted in Rosen’s newest rooms, despite the fact that these dazzling, mesmerizing, somewhat sordid interiors are obviously art. They are big, environmental, representational (novelistic even) pattern paintings. Yes, paintings, because all is done with color, shape, pattern, texture, and composition. The chairs and lamps, dolls and bottles, masks, pillows, suitcases, and old clothes are applied like brushstrokes—and they are often painted, dyed, and altered as well. They are even placed or “rendered” like brushstrokes.

The atmosphere of these environments is created and controlled with color. This is probably why the Cibachrome photographs of details of the spaces, which were also a part of the show, are so evocative. The more private spaces (the bedroom and the sitting room) are presented in a palette of Pappagallo hues—hot pink, deep turquoise, Kelly green, and canary yellow. But they are untamed, all thrown together, garishly and passionately. Their appearance in unbelievably tacky purple plastic sconces, in glittery rose-and-gold wallpaper, in floral linoleum, and in gloppy old nail polish bottles, heightens their effect. Rosen wanders through Woolworth’s with a painter’s and novelist’s eye, and she incorporates her findings using both sensibilities, though it is the painter’s that is in control.

The more public parts of the apartment are predominantly in primary colors. The dining room has walls of bright-blue contact-paper brick overlaid with a window made of red, white, blue, and yellow Wheat Thins wrappers and a red window shade, where there is no window. The Formica-topped table has tubular legs of red, yellow, blue, and green, and four sets of abstract patterns rendered with stripes, cola cans, and painted pasta on top. Another set of patterns is created with pavings and picnic supplies, placed on the floor under the table. Pattern on pattern on pattern, on several layers and levels. Matisse would be proud—or perturbed.

The exhibition was called “Vogues & Vanities, vivid visions & vestiges." It was named after Vogues & Vanities, a local dress shop for well-to-do elderly ladies. Rosen adopted the name, with the store’s permission, then took off with V’s. There are V-shaped patterns throughout the rooms—in lipstick on mirrors, on a lampshade, and made with bobby pins on the vanity. As well as being purely decorative devices, the V’s are symbols of birds in flight, and there are birds, stuffed and suggested, throughout the rooms, too. The artist liked the idea of nesting—in the human “nest.” It is not on a literal or literary level that her art really succeeds, however, but on a visual one. It is the color and arrangement of the symbol-laden objects that gives them their power and purpose here, for Rosen’s vignettes are primarily pictorial.

Jayne Merkel