I first met sculptor, Rachel Rotenberg, back in the summer, during the run of our inaugural exhibition,Gutsy: Taking the Fear Factor out of Feminism, where she was an exhibiting artist. I had the pleasure to speak with her further while we were being interviewed for a piece in the Baltimore Sun's A&E section. Rachel's sculptures will also be appearing in the upcoming TFAP-B affiliated exhibition, breathe in gold light, which is why I wanted this chance to talk, and hear more about her work.
breathe in gold light is being curated by Kelly Johnson, a CPMFA candidate at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and active TFAP-B member. I've been working closely with Kelly for about a year now, serving on her thesis review committee, and helping with programming in conjunction with her thesis show. A press release for the exhibition, and related programming will be forthcoming, but until then...
WIPbreathe in gold light (screen shot from micacuratorial.org,11/30/14)
Shana Goetsch: Hi Rachel! Let's begin by having you tell us about your path to Baltimore. I understand you're originally from Canada?
Rachel Rotenberg: I
went to university in Toronto but I spent one semester in NY at the
School of Visual Arts. There I saw the energy and pulse of the New York
art community. I also met my life partner. We move to a loft in
Williamsburg and worked there for several
years until our eldest child needed to go to school. We spent seven
years in Westchester County and in 1994 we moved our family to
back, is there some early work you created (or a moment), which has
made a tangible impact on your development as an artist?
think it is an accumulation of many moments, from my mothers
encouragement when I was a child, to my own sense of accomplishment when
I created objects out of raw materials. For me there was no decisive
moment, art was in the museums we visited, it was made in the extra
curricular activities that I participated in. The city of Toronto ran
free high quality art classes for high school students and adults
throughout the year and I attended them throughout high school. I
attended university as an art major but it was not 'til I graduated that
I began to develop a language of my own using cedar lumber.
you have a particular female artist or writer that you feel has
influenced you or your practice (working in any medium, historical or
work very much on my own, both because I work alone in my studio and I
find my sculptural forms in a meditative space. I come “out for air”
from time to time to see what other artists are doing and I am
encouraged to see more and more strong work coming out of women
I am looking at sculpture I am not looking for a male or female artist,
I am looking at the art work itself. I have always been drawn to
sculpture. I remember the delight of discovering the work of Eva Hess
and Louis Bourgeois. But I also was drawn to David Smith, Martin Puryear
and Anthony Caro. I have heard them described as materialists. It is
the use of material and the associations that they evoke through their
forms that is exciting to me.
I do notice when I see woman artists, is whether they have had to
sacrifice a family for their art practice. That interests me because I
did raise a family and although I continued to make art work throughout
those years, I was not able to engage while my children were young, with
the art community, the way I would have wanted to. I am encouraged to see
young women working together to promote their art work. I was not aware
of organizations like that when I began my career.
S: How did your interest in sculpting such large scale pieces begin?
work is very physical and I relate bodily to the pieces I create. The
size of any specific piece is defined by the project. The sizes of my
work have been large and small from the beginning.
S. How small is the smallest piece you've ever made? I am interested that you "relate bodily" to your sculptures. Are "insides" (organs, or I suppose the ephemeral) versus "outsides" (the curve of a hip, etc.) something that you differentiate between, or identify within the pieces? Does the size of the piece factor into that concept at all?
R: I have pieces that are 1.5' - 2' by 8" - 10" and maybe 6" - 10" deep.When
I say bodily, I mean they relate to the human body, whether they look
like one might want to crawl inside the sculpture or like it might fit
around a waist, or relate to a head or belly. To give an example of an
everyday object that I relate to "bodily", I think of a car. I see a reflection of the human face in the
front of most cars, the grill, the hood, the lights; eyes, mouth, nose.
We know that we will fit inside, we sense whether it will be
comfortable or not without stepping inside.
another thing that comes up for me is the physicality of the
construction. I crawl inside and wrap myself around the sculptures as I
cut, glue and clamp the wood pieces. In the end I feel a strong desire
to touch the wood, especially if I have a well-sanded, smooth surface.
My own response to my work is so layered and difficult for me to
describe clearly. I feel successful when people respond to the work
viscerally. That response which comes when the work is seen in person,
tells me that I have communicated effectively. A relationship between
my physical body and the sculpture plays out throughout the construction,
and remains with the object when it is done. My sculpture is not conceptual work, I hope that the work will be "felt" by others.
S: Is your way of working more about going in with a set plan and a sketch, or is it that something in the materials will dictate and shape, in some way...that the piece "becomes" more in congress with you/your movements/relationship to the materials? R:
I begin with a drawing, I use 2" x 4" and 4" x 4" lumber specifically
because it is like a blank canvas, with the ability to be combined to
meet my will. I transform them into the shapes I imagine, but if I am
using a vine or a piece of metal, that shape inspires the initial
drawing and the force of the sculpture. As I work, the lumber that I cut
and glue together informs me, and changes will take place. I return to
my drawing book to test out what I am seeing/thinking. I have a video on
youtube (embedded below) that describes the making of a recent
piece. The initial drawings these days are a basic form and movement, I
find the details in the construction process. The whole process is
creative, in that the discovering continues until the end.
of my favorite little peeks into other artists' practices: What is the
color that you favor the most in creating your art work? What about the
material you use most?
have been building primarily with cedar wood lumber, the warm red/brown
color of the wood is my canvas so I find myself using a lot of greens
S: What is the most important tool you use as an artist? R:
My angle grinder is my most expressive tool. As a sculptor I cannot do
without a number of power tools, table saw, band saw, but the angle
grinder can be fitted with a number of cutting, sanding and grinding
heads. I need two of them on hand at all times. As
I write this, I feel the need to put a word in for an old straight thin
chisel, that is irreplaceable to clean off a small section here and
there. S: How do you tend to decompress, or what allows you a stress-free or "quiet space"?
R: My studio is the perfect place for me to chill out. No matter how I go in, I come out feeling energized and lighter.
S: Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Rachel! How can we find out more about you and your work?
R:www.rachelrotenberg.com Whenever I have an exhibit, I send out an e-mail invitation and post on facebook. Send me an e-mail if you want to be added to the e-blast or friend me on facebook.
I first asked Rachel for an interview, it was announced that she is a
2015 recipient of the Franz and Virginia Bader Fund.
Best wishes for these continued endeavors!
Rachel Rotenberg, Toda, at the GUTSY exhibition, Summer 2014