From Rose (Brown) Dalessandro at Galerie Camille, installation view. All images by the author for Hyperallergic.

DETROIT—The image of an incomplete woman stands quite literally at the center of Rose (Brown) Dalessandro — a retrospective of the somewhat enigmatic Detroit sculptor who passed away in 2017 at the age of 77. The posthumous survey of her work highlights several of her signature motifs, mostly rendered in hand-built ceramic, or bronze and plaster relief: shields that resemble the colorful carapaces of beetles, wabi-sabi vessels, and series of female figures that appear somewhere between a mythic Amazonian ideal and the Venus of Willendorf.

Three small works by sculptor Rose Dalessandro.

Wall-mounted shield work by Rose Dalessandro.

The various threads of Dalessandro’s finished works lead into the interior sanctum of Galerie Camille, where a kind of shrine to the artist’s inner life has been mounted: a wall papered in concept sketches and musings from her sketchbooks and diaries. Within these snippets, one detects the struggle faced by many a female artist: the obligations of a creative existence in a turf war with the responsibilities of a procreative existence. Just as her ceramic goddesses are born into the world lacking a full complement of limbs and features, one senses in Dalessandro’s writings an unmet desire for her fullest expression.

Rose (Brown) Dalessandro, installation view.

Rose (Brown) Dalessandro, detail view.

“Through her journals & our conversations, Rose constantly struggled with the burden of responsibilities & her insatiable drive to make art, curate & be in an environment she felt most at home,” wrote Rose’s daughter Therese Myers, in an email to Hyperallergic. “She wrote about her loneliness & being broke for what she considered necessary isolation in order to do what she wanted to do most … be in her studio. Her connection to family, friends & social circles suffered when she would take her self imposed sabbaticals. She suffered from the disconnect as she wrote often that she needed those connections for inspiration and deeply missed the human connection that gave her love, support, understanding & maybe even permission. I’ve surmised, she never found that balance to be truly comfortable in her own skin/life.”

Rose (Brown) Dalessandro, installation view.

Shield work by Rose Dalessandro.

Dalessandro’s art career began with classes at Macomb Community College in the late 70’s after getting her high school diploma. She later quit a corporate secretarial job to attend Detroit’s College for Creative Studies in 1980, after raising Myers and her brother. Her art received some critical reception, and was also frequently cited as being influential to a great number of artists and interlocutors within the scope of the Detroit art scene.

Indeed, there is something inescapably affecting about Dalessandro’s work, with its essential female figuration and the self-made armor that is balanced, elegant, and paradoxically fragile.

An image reproduced from the sketchbook of Rose Dalessandro, detail view.

Rose (Brown) Dalessandro, installation view.

“I draw because I don’t have the time and energy to make these forms (ideas) after 10-12 hours of painting walls — or typing, or, or, or”— a short statement by the artist declares, accompanying a sketch of female figure seated cross-legged and balancing a ball in each open palm. The “or, or, or” is a recognizable lament for anyone who takes up the fight between self and others, art and life, the quotidian and the transcendent. The legacy Dalessandro leaves behind is not simply one of form, but one of the struggle attendant to its creation.

Rose (Brown) Dalessandro continues at Galerie Camille (4130 Cass Ave, Detroit, MI) through October 5.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....