Cynthia Rosen is excited, because she feels she is on the verge of something. Her incredibly bold and intense abstractions of landscapes, painted on-site right next to a more representational version, are showing her the way.
Rosen has traveled an interesting road to get to this place. She started in the 1970s at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where abstract art held sway. She found success selling non-objective art to corporations through a SoHo gallery. But then she turned her energy toward raising six kids, and her artistic endeavors were limited to painting scenery for theater sets (a gig she greatly enjoyed).
“Browns Ranch Abstraction,” by Cynthia Rosen, 2013, oil on panel, 14 x 17 in.
Now, with the kids grown, and with winters spent in the warmth of Arizona rather than in her old haunts in Vermont, Rosen is finding a new path. “Coming back to making art, I don’t know my own vocabulary any more,” she says. “I don’t know where it will end up. I call this series ‘the point of departure.'”
Her last painting job before moving to Arizona was a 35-foot mural for a Sarabeth’s restaurant location in Manhattan. When she painted non-objective art, the pieces were large. Now she’s painting on canvases less than a foot wide. In the plein air painting world, abstract painters are fairly rare. Here comes Rosen.
The two pieces as she worked on them side by side
“When you lay out the image, unless you draw it with a pencil or with a small paintbrush, you block in your image and abstract the scene,” she says. “I block in my colors, as do a lot of other artists. But I am intrigued by these very abstract concepts; I love the beauty of what I am seeing. I don’t stop it at blocking in, but I paint two versions; I take that original sketch and turn one toward the representational and one toward the abstract.” She works on them side by side, at the same time, seemingly without losing her mind.
“Wickenberg Representational Piece,” by Cynthia Rosen, 2013, oil on panel, 14 x 17 in.
These aren’t the only big changes Rosen has instituted in her art-making. She has also gone from painting almost monochromatically or in pastel colors to really going bold with vibrant color, and she’s gone from water media to oil. “I can realistically draw and paint something, and that goes back 40 years, but that’s not who I am,” she says. I love color. My obsession with color and movement, which are longtime interests, still exists.”
If Rosen’s more abstract pieces seem to almost leap off the canvas, it may be because of her thought process. “Honestly, human beings are 3-D creatures,” she says. “We are much more inclined to be sculptors, but we are trained to be 2-D, to use pencils. How do you put something you see on a flat surface? We do have cameras that can take a photo, so why are we trying to duplicate it? Artists are trained to play with what they are doing. It is about the love of paint and the love of manipulating it, and the love of bringing ourselves to the canvas. When we bring ourselves to the painting, it is more abstract.”
“Wickenberg Abstraction,” by Cynthia Rosen, 2013, oil on panel, 14 x 17 in.
The artist is new to the game, but she’s game. “In December I discovered a plein air group here in Arizona,” says Rosen. “I had never painted anything smaller than three feet, and I was coming off a 35-foot piece. I was petrified. I got out some really tiny brushes and got some oil paint and a palette knife and started to dab out of my own fear, not knowing how to use oil paint and paint in 6 or 8 inches. And that’s not what’s in my heart. I needed to learn about color and deal with motion. I would paint two or three panels at a time because I was anxious to paint and nervous about mixing colors. I still don’t really like small surfaces. I needed more space to move and more things to focus on. In the process of exploring, my work was becoming more abstract. That’s what’s in my heart and that’s what’s interesting to me. If I am painting the landscape, it’s organic. I need to make something that has movement.”
She doesn’t plan to keep this up — painting in two different styles, side-by-side, in the same painting session. But Rosen doesn’t really know what’s next. One thing at a time.
The two pieces painted in Wickenburg, Arizona, side by side
“I don’t know where my work will go but I absolutely love painting en plein air,” says Rosen. “My pieces are unconventional, but this is my process. People are buying my pieces, and maybe in a while I can look for a gallery. But I have hit a plateau for the first time in the last year of painting. I am comfortable and enjoying myself on this pretty tortuous road. Where it will be a year down the road, I have no idea. It’s part of the art process. If I get to a larger surface in the studio, might I come back and play with the idea of abstract and realism on the same canvas? That’s really possible.”