Annabeth Rosen: Between Drawing and Sculpture

Article excerpt

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IN REFERENCE TO WORKS OF art, the word 'scale' can simply indicate the proportional relationship between an object and its representation. It can also describe something quite different: an effect of intimacy or monumentality that may have nothing to do with representation or even the actual size of an art object relative to the viewer. This 'scale effect' involves a degree of disruption or even displacement of ordinary perception. It can account for much of the influence that an art object exerts over the viewer's emotional experience, and consequently it is crucial for the artist to consider as a work evolves. For sculptor Annabeth Rosen, the scale effect has recently been a special point of focus as she has sought to reduce the physical size of her sculptures while preserving their impression of massiveness and strength. These qualities had previously resulted from an additive process in which her works grew to whatever size necessary to achieve the desired effect. By setting size restrictions in advance, Rosen situated herself on unfamiliar and initially challenging terrain. The results of meeting the challenge--small pedestal-sized nonobjective sculptures with densely energetic presence--formed the nucleus of a recent solo exhibition at the Fleisher / Ollman Gallery in Philadelphia.

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Despite the reduced scale of her sculptures, Rosen's exhibition was perhaps most noteworthy because of her decision to display alongside of her newest bichromatic, accretive tubular ceramic sculptures a series of drawings, some of them as small as 10 sq cm and others as large as 2 m high.

Rendered with a brush in black ink or blue paint on paper, the vigorous drawings form a cohesiveness with the sculptures that was not surprising given the circumstances under which they were made. Though not preliminary drawings per se--nor, exactly, the equivalent of the 'free writing' in which authors often engage as an entree to a more substantial text--Rosen's two-dimensional compositions are intimately tied to her better-known work as a sculptor. The two-dimensional pieces seem to engage a process of exploring formal and conceptual problems that parallels the process of working in clay yet is capable of unfolding at an accellerated rate.

Rosen, in fact, speaks of her drawings in precisely this way. "I draw continually," she explains, "often years ahead of the ideas that I'm actually building in clay because of the speed and the quantity that I can achieve in the drawings. Working in ceramics is labour intensive and time consuming, and drawing is far more immediate."

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Rosen, however, is anything but methodical in her approach to the medium of clay. Slipcasting, or any other minutely controlled technique that would lead to more precise contours, greater uniformity of surface and, consequently, an increased sense of anonymity, holds little attraction for her. The malleability of clay, its responsiveness to the "hot hand," is what incites Rosen's passion about the material. Although her signature clusters of bristling vein or rootlike tubular segments are generally composed in part from previously fired elements that she presses into the wet clay with a force characterised as "muscling," her work expresses an overall correspondence between touch and material that can be quite sensitive. The fidelity of clay's response to the hand--its capacity to accurately bear the marks of the maker --is a source of perpetual challenge for Rosen and, ultimately, the cause of her respect for the medium. …