Elizabeth Rosenblum

Gallery Naga

Elizabeth Rosenblum’s recent paintings bear witness to the increasingly complex conceptual and esthetic concerns of an artist coming to terms with manic depression. Entitled “Phobias, Manias and other Aberrations,” this show featured nineteen 18-by-l8-inch collage paintings that examine clinical terms as defined in a 1953 medical text, Encyclopedia of Aberrations. Also included is Mad Rant, 1992, an oversized image of Sally Field as the Flying Nun overlaid with such phrases as “Boil me,” “Barbed Wire,” and “Make it Stop,” which represent the soaring highs and severe lows of manic depression. The smaller paintings, each dominated at the bottom by the phrase “anxiety aroused,” more subtly explore the chasm that exists between the impersonal and degrading technical language of psychiatric medicine and the reality of living with mental illness. Rosenblum further satirizes the disjunction between scientific nomenclature and the behavior it describes by merging glossary text with images appropriated from various sources, including medical journals, Victorian pattern books, and comic strips. Inspired by Sigmar Polke, Rosenblum applies multiple layers of epoxy resin to high-resolution acetate photocopies of images and text. Her various concoctions of acetate, pigment, dyes, resins, and inks applied to raw or gessoed drop cloths are sealed with glossy laminate. The resulting viscous and bubbly surfaces blend with grounds of juicy earth-toned spatters and drips.

What give her best canvases their bite are Rosenblum’s clever juxtapositions of words, underpainting, and appropriated images. Ecdysiasm, 1992, describes the impulse to disrobe in public, using overlapping images of aberrant enlarged labia and phalliform clitorises. In Mysophobia, 1992, the irrational fear of dirt or contamination is made more emphatic by the layering of the glossary definitions over a simulated black grease stain. Logorrhea, 1992, is a conceptual and technical tour de force. The main text, which describes “incessant talking; usually in the sense that the speech is repetitious and full of circumlocutions but not incoherent,” is placed over a partially obscured acetate photocopy of a case history drawn from the “Body Image Disturbance” section of the Encyclopedia of Aberrations. The word “aroused” is printed three times, like a stutter. Multiple layers of epoxy resin mixed with brown pigments and dyes partially obscure the text.

The artist’s rage at the objectifying language doctors use in the face of human pain and vulnerability emerges eloquently from each of the 19 canvases. Formally they could be characterized as neo-Expressionist paintings; works such as Ochlophobia, 1992, are actually quite spontaneously and intuitively created. The defining phrase “fear of crowds” covers a lovely miniature yellow-white-and-black approximation of a Franz Kline action painting. It is a mistake to privilege the conceptual angst and rhetorical intent of these pieces: the ideas are often clever vehicles for an equally important painterly process.

Francine Koslow Miller