SETH ROSENBERG

The Plain Dealer: Artist Seth Rosenberg wins Creative Workforce Fellowship after shifting from abstracts to figures

August 23, 2009

by Dan Tranberg, Special to the Plain Dealer
Sunday August 23, 2009, 12:03 AM

Artist Seth Rosenberg, shown here in his painting studio in downtown Cleveland, relocated to Northeast Ohio from Washington, D.C., in 2005. He is one of 20 winners of a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship from the Cleveland Partnership for Arts and Culture.

Originally from Connecticut, artist Seth Rosenberg lived in Washington, D.C., for 24 years before he and his wife moved to Cleveland in 2005. He spent two decades as the owner of a framing business and art gallery, and then gave it all up to become a full-time artist.

Now, at 57, Rosenberg leaves his home in Pepper Pike each morning and heads to his painting studio, a huge fifth-floor loft space just east of downtown Cleveland with a postcard view of the skyline.

When he first arrived here, Rosenberg, who has both undergraduate and graduate degrees in sculpture, was making highly patterned abstract paintings. Then, a year and a half ago, he reinvented himself as a figurative painter.

The shift in his work has already paid off. Earlier this summer, based on a portfolio of his new paintings, he received a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship from the Cleveland Partnership for Arts and Culture. Nineteen other visual artists also got the grants.

The award was more than an affirmation that Rosenberg was on the right track; it also allowed him to replace his 10-year-old computer with a spiffy new laptop.

In Washington, Rosenberg was influenced by the city’s strong history of abstract painting. A group of prominent painters known as the Washington Color School had emerged there in the 1960s, including Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis, Gene Davis and Sam Gilliam.

Back in the late 1970s, when Rosenberg was finishing up graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Washington seemed a logical next step. So, he moved there.

He later became good friends with Gilliam, whose painting studio was located next door to Rosenberg’s framing business.

Despite his exposure to well-known abstract painters, Rosenberg said that a lifelong interest in historical figure painters, such as Edouard Manet, ultimately motivated him to switch from abstract to figurative painting.

He also became interested in the painting style and the theatrical drama of the American Social Realists of the 1930s, which he came to know through prints he framed at his Washington framing business.

Rosenberg’s current paintings are based on dense amalgamations of images from diverse sources, including old scientific illustrations, antique graphics and recent photographs. Many also include words and numbers painted in a variety of typefaces, sometimes appearing to be cut out from newspapers and magazines.

The overall result is a barrage of visual information, which viewers must sift through to construct any number of narrative readings.

Many of his works resemble collages that have been enlarged and translated into paintings. Some images fall back in space and become ornate patterns, while others lunge forward.

As he continues to develop his paintings, Rosenberg is still getting to know the Cleveland art scene. He is not yet represented by a local gallery.

If the dozens and dozens of paintings in his studio are any indication, it would seem that he is as prolific as he is determined to carve out a place for himself in Northeast Ohio.

With a major award under his belt, all he needs now is time.

Tranberg is an artist and writer living in Cleveland.

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