HYDE PARK, New York — Drawing is just one of the many different things that Harry Roseman does. He has also made public sculpture, most notably the 71-foot-long bronze “Subway Wall” (1990), installed in the entrance of the subway station at 60 Wall Street in Manhattan’s financial district, and the 58 gypsum curtains of “Curtain Wall” (2001) that line a corridor in Terminal 4 of Kennedy International Airport. He also makes small sculptures that can sit on a table, and, in addition to gypsum and bronze, he has made works with sheets of plywood. His pieces range in scale from intimate to monumental.
In 1956, at the age of 10, Roseman started a photographic project, which he would later separate into two series, titled Groups: Friends and Acquaintances and Self Portraits. Both are still ongoing. In 1971, he began Visitors: A Journal, documenting everyone who came to the home where he and his wife, the painter Catherine Murphy, were living. This project includes friends, plumbers, art handlers, and mail deliverers — literally anyone who came to visit, however brief.
In 2007, I interviewed Roseman for The Brooklyn Rail about a series of 100 drawings, 100 Most Popular Colors (1993-94), which he rendered on paint color charts. The count of 100 drawings was based in part on the 100 sample color squares on each chart, which ranged from blush white in the upper left-hand corner to violet in the lower right, with no bright or primary colors in between. This is what he said in the interview:
It’s a folded piece of paper with 100 boxes of insipid colors that look like they’re left over from the fifties. And I said, “100 most popular colors, 100 boxes, 100 drawings.” It seemed clear to me that there needed to be 100 drawings in order to achieve a total balance between each one and the whole enterprise.
When I asked him about how he used the chart, he stated:
I use the color chart, words and squares of colors as a ground. It’s very straightforward. […] Some transitions are clearly sequential. I made lines over the whole chart in the first drawing. In the second one, I made similar, smaller marks only in each colored box. It was a conversation about the various parameters that were possible once the thing itself was, in a sense, talking back.
Roseman is methodical and playful. He is interested in what his materials tell him. In 1989, he began drawing on a bolt of cloth. In our interview he told me,
“The Bolt” is a drawing that is also an object. It’s an incremental weave structure that is very depictive because it looks like a real weave. I’m just kind of metaphorically weaving while drawing and it is a certain length and I work on it somewhat every year. It will be another length eventually. It’s about counting minutes, and making marks, and making an object that exists as an object.
Finally, on what connects 100 Most Popular Colors and “The Bolt,” Roseman said:
My process and my ideas about much of my work seem to be incremental. I’m very interested in things that build up by mark or dab, and sometimes you see it and sometimes you don’t.
Having known Roseman for as long as I have — more than 30 years — I have seen many different bodies of work. During that time, he has never been associated with any group, style, or tendency. I think the art world (like much of America) is deeply suspicious of anything or anyone that cannot be easily categorized.
Recently, I was a “visitor” to Harry and Cathy’s house and had a chance to see a new body of Roseman’s drawings, all in acrylic paint on paper. First, Roseman made an amorphic shape or shapes by dripping or pouring acrylic paint onto the paper, using either an eyedropper or a container. Then, the contour of the amorphic shape talks back to him.
Using a sable brush, Roseman makes a series of concentric lines that echo the shape’s contour, spreading out from the puddle of dried paint, like rings in a tree, marking the shape’s growth. As meticulous and rhythmically repetitive as they are, unexpected things happen. The density and color of the line shifts from black to pale gray. A mistake happens, which Roseman has to incorporate into the flow of the drawing. Circles are in some, but not all, of the spaces that open up.
The fact that Roseman seems at times to interrupt — though not undermine — his own logic is just one of the many unforeseen occurrences likely to happen in one of his drawings. In “2018-5,” the red lines change direction, making the surface of the drawing become illusionistic rather than purely flat and graphic.
Looking at these drawings, I was reminded of Sol LeWitt’s “Sentences on Conceptual Art” (1968), which opens:
- Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.
- Rational judgements repeat rational judgements.
- Irrational judgements lead to new experience.
- Formal art is essentially rational.
- Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically.
- If the artist changes his mind midway through the execution of the piece he compromises the result and repeats past results.
- The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His wilfulness may only be ego.
Read through all 35 of LeWitt’s sentences and you could consider Roseman a conceptual artist, while simultaneously feeling that you are wrong. Is he a conceptual artist who also happens to be an outsider artist? Can someone be both and neither?
The drawings may be, as Roseman says, about “counting minutes, and making marks, and making an object that exists as an object,” but there is nothing dry about them. They are funny, quirky, and zipping with energy. They should be included in a show with drawings by Daniel Zeller, Xylor Jane, John O’Connor, Lori Ellison, and James Siena.
At some point, while looking at these drawings, while scrutinizing the lines and the changing space between them, it might occur to you — as it did to me — that one of many captivating and delicious things about them is that Roseman has dissolved the boundary between madness and rationality. He has found another way to keep dancing on a high wire.
This week, news outlets flock to TikTok, New York Times staff strikes, the problem with the phrase “late-term abortion,” and was the North Pole once a forest?
The 11,000-year-old wall relief discovered in Southeastern Turkey may reflect humans’ changing roles in the natural world during the Neolithic Revolution.
The Brazilian artist asked the museum to remove his work from a show about the Black experience, calling the institution a “White man’s theater.”
In an era of fast fashion and sweatshop exploitation, the artist demonstrates how far an industry will go to keep workers out of the picture.
This adventurous theater festival returns in person with 36 artists and companies from nine countries performing at different venues across the city.
Both Don Ed Hardy and Laurie Steelink refuse to adhere to traditional artistic hierarchies, an attitude they have shared throughout their 30-year friendship.
It took over 37 hours to pull 1,900 miles of glass filament to create the garment, now on view at the Toledo Museum of Art.
Learn more about the New York-based, globally linked program and its upcoming discussions on art and society in the time of AI and data governance.
An insidious racism is at play in interviewer Henri Renaud’s attempt to groom Thelonious Monk for public consumption on French television.
The last few years at the museum have not been without controversy, and Decatur will inherit a record of workforce struggles.
The program, along with recently announced visiting critics, will provide long term funding, promote access, and safeguard experimentation for future students of color.
Refugees of the Moria camp in Lesvos, Greece are behind the camera in the film Nothing About Us Without Us.
Helen Molesworth’s true-crime sensation marginalizes the artist’s life and legacy.