Nonrepresentational art captured the imagination of artists since late 19th century. But in the major part of 20th century it literally devoured the hearts and minds of painters, sculptors and even architects. From fauvism to futurism, cubism to Dadaism the language of artistic abstraction evolved at a rapid pace. A world ravaged by war and economic depressions needed a radically different thought process for re–establishing order, mending broken lives and alleviating pain as best as possible. The romanticism associated with baroque, rococo or neo–classicism seemed like a distant memory and was hardly relevant in the backdrop of death and destruction. Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, one of the founding members of Futurism, summed up the despondency perfectly when he said, ‘There is no longer beauty except in the struggle. No more masterpieces without an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault against the unknown forces in order to overcome them and prostrate them before men.’
In this artistic milieu Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg introduced neo–plasticism to the world. They stripped their canvas of everything except pure lines and shapes depicted in solid blocks of black, red, yellow, blue and white. A new dialect of art was born that is faithful only to the purity of geometric forms. It became hugely popular among artists across Europe and North America.
Rosemarie Bloch was born in 1940, Cincinnati, Ohio. She was too young at the time to understand the impact of abstract geometric painting and why Broadway Boogie–Woogie completed by Piet Mondrian in 1943 is still one of most treasured items in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Graphic designers found the theme inherently stimulating. So it does not come as a surprise when Rosemarie Bloch find her artistic expressions in grids and become motivated to explore and paint a city’s vista on canvas in the language of abstraction.
This acrylic grid painting is called Take the ‘A’ Train. It is one of my favourites and has been accepted into four juried shows. The title refers to the Duke Ellington piece and suggests an urban train ride past apartment windows and other trains.
Tell us how the childhood influences at home and in your immediate surrounding contributed in the making of the artist and human being that you grew up to become.
I grew up in a place with few children of my age, and a big wooded area nearby, where I learned about nature. My father took me fishing, and my mom took me downtown to shop. The late forties were a different time than now. I was horse crazy and remember drawing horses and trees from early childhood. I got some encouragement for my drawing ability, but when I got to high school there was a nun who was an accomplished painter who taught me a lot. Though I got a scholarship to the Art Academy of Cincinnati, my parents were not enthusiastic, I think they thought I might get married as most girls did then, not have a career, especially one where you starved.
How extensive travelling helped nourishing your experiences of life and art?
As a child, there were very few trips, but I did get to Washington DC, and Michigan. I enjoyed the new places and friends and the military life, but the actual moving was not fun after there were several children. Sometimes there was no room to paint. But it still let me see new landscapes, and I did some teaching.
How the formal training you received in painting helped (or hindered) in honing your skills?
The Art Academy of Cincinnati was a fine museum school back then, now it offers degrees and is no longer connected to the museum. We spent time in the adjacent Cincinnati Art Museum seeing their collection. The curriculum was 7 hours a day hands on visual art, drawing, painting, printmaking. I learned about colour especially from Julian Stanczak, an original member of the OP art movement. But we didn’t have many academic classes, so it was skimpy on art history. I think the museum made up for that. Nonetheless, I was stuck in realism while they were doing more abstracts. That changed somewhat when there was at a Jackson Pollack show at the Museum, in the new Contemporary Arts Center. I was floored by the power of the work. I still remember the Life Magazine story on him about 1950. I dismissed him then as silly and lazy. That changed when I saw the show.
What made you fall in love with abstract expressionism? How do you induce life into the rigidity of geometric patterns?
Frankly it was too easy to do the realism stuff and I really didn’t know how to do abstraction, despite seeing Pollack. I did a lot of reading in the years following school, looking at the contemporary artists like Rothko and Stuart Davis. But I gradually realised that I did understand it about 1985, and though I still do some referential pieces, now the grid holds my heart. As to the second part of your question, I have to echo another artist who said if he could explain it in words he wouldn’t have to paint it. But it came about with practice evolving from improvisational pieces where I dripped paint and added colours. Colour is probably the main animator of the grid.
How do you effectively utilise colour to induce mood and drama into your narrative?
The theories I learned in school, and observation over the years of painting hundreds of pieces taught me how colour affects me, and I hope it affects others similarly, though it has been said that everyone sees colour differently. To some, red is threatening, and so on.
From and beyond the world of art whom do you consider to be your biggest sources of inspiration?
I could write paragraphs about this, but I think the early to mid 20th century moderns would be high on the list. I admire a great many artists from all eras from the Lascaux caves to Kara Walker for example. I also credit my mentor at an arts centre who helped me find myself. I will be forever grateful to Steve Perucca.
How does your love of music inspire and influence the visual lyricism of your paintings? Do you have any particular favourite both in terms of genre and musician?
I love Classical and Jazz, but also enjoy other genres. I always have something running through my head or playing in the studio. Sometimes the act of painting will bring to mind a particular piece and suggest a name for the work. Creativity is problem solving: it is basic to human and comes in many forms from singing, to architecture to painting and all in between. I don’t think the various forms can be separated in the basic existence.
Whichever be the language of art its success lies in communicating the core of the narrative in no uncertain terms and for an artist in planting it in the mind of the audience even though no artist can possibly ensure the latter. But he may still find solace in successfully evoking a response if his or her work draws anything but indifference from the viewer. Theo van Doesburg, one of the pioneers of De Stijl movement, believed, ‘True artistic experience is never passive, for the spectator is obliged to participate, as it were, in the continuous or discontinuous variations of proportions, positions, lines and planes. Moreover, he must see clearly how this play of repeated or non–repeated changes may give rise to a new harmony of relations which will constitute the unity of the work. Every part becomes organised into a whole with the other parts. All the parts contribute to the unity of the composition, none of them assuming a dominant place in the whole.’
Through the ebb and flow of life how do you consider your artistic journey to have advanced and gained maturity?
I am still learning about painting every time I do another piece. Becoming a senior citizen has brought home to me the briefness of our lives. I hope that my work will live on and bring some pleasure to future viewers.
Rosemarie Bloch loves …
Holidaying in picturesque Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands of NY. She often reads to escape from the daily concerns of life and finds Elizabeth George’s mystery novels greatly entertaining. Novels written by J K Rowling also feel equally interesting to her. And when it comes to food she can never resist ratatouille made with fresh summer produce.
Find more of her work at her website.