Search :

Big Pictures

by Judy Purdy


Intro/Epic Stories  |  Anatomy of style   |  An artist's life

Painting "The World at Large"

Folk Music & Culture

"Dilmus Hall: A Man Has Been Here a Long Time," oil on canvas, 1986, 88" x 34"

Anatomy of style

Rosenbaum’s complex, sometimes troubling, stories spring to life through his unique approach that incorporates a range of Western styles, traditions and techniques.

“His work has a craziness that I admire,” Herbert said. “His paintings have what I call ‘spaghetti space.’ He weaves background and figure together in a way that suggests the figures are enmeshed in unexpected and surprising ways. It’s an entirely original way of handling figure painting, one that I’ve never seen before.”

“He really mixes the present and the past in interesting ways,” Colangelo said.

"Rakestraw's Dream," oil on canvas, 1987, 78" x 106"

Some compare Rosenbaum’s work with the 1930s American Scene or Regionalism style popularized by Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, who both captured scenes of Midwestern farm life as well as American social issues of the times. Atlanta Journal-Constitution art critic Catherine Fox has likened Rosenbaum’s work to an “Expressionist John Steuart Curry.”

Dennis Harper, who earned a master’s degree under Rosenbaum’s tutelage, sees his mentor’s style as more than narrative story telling. “It’s poetry, maybe even epic poetry,” he said.

Brilliant, scintillating colors are a hallmark of Rosenbaum’s work. In addition to squeezing color from tubes of paint and mixing them on a palette — what artists call direct painting — he layers colors on the canvas. He may paint blue over yellow to create a rich green. Called indirect painting, the technique was popular five centuries ago among Renaissance painters.

Indirect painting gives you “a visual perception of green, but you’re also aware of that yellow and that blue,” said Harper, now curator of exhibitions at the Georgia Museum of Art. Harper is organizing a retrospective exhibit of Rosenbaum’s work slated for November 2007.

In painting a sky, for example, “Rosenbaum will lay in spots of color and glaze over them with other colors. It might be a warm blue over a cool blue or a violet over a blue-green,” he said. Or it could be lots of different colors. Rosenbaum paints flesh tones using lavenders, grays, reds and greens, for example, the way Impressionists painted figures.

Rosenbaum begins by “underpainting” the canvas with ocher, umber or perhaps Venetian red. The ageless technique — popular centuries ago with Rembrandt and other Old Dutch Masters — gives intense, vibrant colors.

“The light reflected back to our eyes bounces off the various glaze layers. Some of the light penetrates one layer down and bounces back — let’s say a green. Some goes deeper and bounces back as pink, until you get all the way down to the underpainting that was Venetian red,” Harper said. “All the various layers of color coalesce to project a combined statement, while still maintaining their own distinct identities. It makes for a color effect that can’t be achieved by any other means.”

Pronounced brush strokes give his paintings rich texture.

“The way he scuffles and moves in choppy strokes — and how you feel about and move through the painting — becomes how he creates expressive movement,” Colangelo said. “There are so many brushstrokes in every painting. It’s not about being economical; it’s about expressing yourself.” Depth and perspective come from his use of line and shape, which makes some objects stand out in the foreground and others recede. Like 16th century Italian Mannerist artists, Rosenbaum plays with perspective; like Cubist artists, he fragments space, creating contradictions in perspective.

“Often he’ll paint multiple views of the same figure in motion, a Futurist idea,” Colangelo said.

“Art’s focus meanders all across the painting surface,” Harper said. “The viewpoints change all around; one image merges into another or is repeated.”

Rosenbaum draws inspiration from artists across the centuries, such as French artist Paul Cézanne, an early contributor to Cubism.

“Cézanne was among the greatest artists of the last 100 years. He had a lot of emotion and layers of human experience,” said Rosenbaum, who sometimes studies the French painter’s use of perspective.

Rosenbaum’s signature style — colors that dazzle, a surface of intricate brush strokes and distorted perspectives — add up to a multidimensional experience for viewers.

“His work has a presence that makes me feel good about it,” Herbert said. “He has a linear way of painting that exaggerates gnarly looks and crevices. There’s an organic, flowing quality to his work.”

Colangelo calls Rosenbaum “the quintessential artist, a Renaissance man well-versed in so many historic and modern techniques and styles.”

The painter also earns praise from art critics.

“Rosenbaum is very good at his game ” wrote Aimée Brown Price in the March 2000 issue of Art in America. “These are grand paintings of grand ambition, sometimes edgy and foreboding but loving riffs on and tributes to our country, nonetheless.”


Intro/Epic Stories  |  Anatomy of style   |  An artist's life


Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
For comments or for information please e-mail the editor:
To contact the webmaster please email: