image April 8, 2012

Flotsam turns into art at Sharon show.
Collagist makes surprisingly colorful, lively work from trash

Republican American by Tracey O'Shaughnessy

We are made up of ephemera.

It is not just the snippets of memory that fuse to form consciousness, or the material acquisitions that allure and then constrict us. It is also the blizzard of media that assails us, not merely visually, but palpably and, often, distressingly, in the form of paper.

Yes, paper, that bound-for obsolescence media that continues to lash at us in the form of cards, labels, wrappers, ticket stubs, price tags, raffle tickets, coat checks and franked stamps. This is the debris that congeals around us, and, for New York artist Terry Rosen, it is this rubbish that defines us. In her new mixed media exhibit at Darren Winston Bookseller in Sharon, Rosen pauses to look, and penetratingly, at the fragments that litter and give narrative thrust — like it or not — to our lives.

Her mixed media collages, which have all the vibrancy and cultural oomph of pop art, examine the flotsam and jetsam that constitute consumer culture. In that sense, Rosen’s art is a revelation, because it reminds us that the intoxication of advertising is art, however robustly we try to dismiss it. It’s a mad, mad, “Mad Men” world, and Rosen’s at makes peace with it, piercing and serene ways.

A carefully constructed image like “Sol,” of a cherry red Tootsie Roll wrapper, acrylic knitting yarn label, receipts from a shipment of vanilla extract and a squarish advertisement from a Sol Lewitt retrospective, interlock in a synthesis of design and color magnificently. The yarn refers to the squiggly Lewitt coils that pave up through the bottom center of the image to its heart, as well as to the pencil grids Rosen has affixed to the piece’s edges. At times, Rosen’s images gel in this thematic way, whereas in others, like “GB Saturday,” the pieces fit together in a symphonic constellation of color and design. Here, on a plain white background, accented delicately with horizontal and diagonal black lines, a peach ticket stub for “The Sound of Music” shoulders a red-andyellow psychedelic business card, on which sits a flattened Mary Jane label, affixed to which is a crimson Twinings tea tag. To the right sits a strawberry red Chiclets package, a price tag that reads “3 for 1.00” and an image of a white pig on onyx paper. All of these artifacts could have been accrued in a single afternoon, or in a lifetime. Regardless, it is a visual poem of sorts, of texture, design and color.

What is astonishing is how lush and classical these constellations appear. While there are enough “50 percent off” stickers, bottle caps and package labels to install nostalgia in those who remember the insignias of, say, Pan Am, or Zayre, it is Rosen’s delicate arrangement of these items that bewitches.

Even given the opportunity, as with a series of spherical brand labels, Rosen resists the overstatement of the sort of collaged jumble you’d find in a scrapbook. More often, her work recalls that of Joseph Cornell boxes, with a more implicit narrative.

Often, as in “Askew” or “Lift,” Rosen uses only an identifiable item or two — a sage green business card or a red-dot sticker — to provide a narrative clue. These images, annotated with brittle, ripped chartreuse or cherry red paper, are her most tender.

Typically, though, it’s the way Rosen aligns these remarkable- but-disposable slices of our lives that lends them their quiet intensity. “Twins,” for instance, is so titled for the “Twin” bed sheet sticker at its apex. But look more intensely and you’ll see the double 9s on the thrift store receipt, or the two celery green labels that face each other on a flattened pink metallic candy wrapper. The wrapper, and the long, horizontal aqua ribbon that supports it, evoke twin sheets. But, in its austerity, the composition also suggests a single, lonely life.

Still, sometimes, as in “School Street,” Rosen can’t resist the sheer textural and coloristic pleasure to which her method lends itself. This confectionary collage is an explosion of Starburst, Bazooka, Trident, Pixy Stix, and Wrigley’s Spearmint wrappers that recall the innocent indulgences of the schoolyard, when life was kaleidoscopically real, a candy store just waiting to be assaulted.

"On The Street Where You Live: The Collages of Terry Rosen,"
continues through April 29 at Darren Winston Bookseller, 81 Main St., Sharon.
For details, visit darrenwinstonbookseller or call 860-364-1890.

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