Rose Hertzberg First Period Artist Philosophy


Rose Hertzberg "First Period" - Artist Philosophy

by Jared Hertzberg, grandson of the artist  

An intensely visual worker, Mrs. Hertzberg seldom wrote about her work. Her distinct personal philosophy is revealed in her training, in discussions with family and colleagues, and in statements she made to art reviewers throughout her career.

Mrs. Hertzberg's greatest influence was the master abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann, who taught her and many others of the "New York School" in the 1950s. Rose said that with Hofmann she "learned to control the depth of the canvas, organize space and create tension on the surface of the canvas." In his famous doctrine of "push and pull," Hofmann taught that the basic building-blocks of painting are line, plane, form, space and color. The artist creates planes from lines, and combines these planes to create space and forms. Yet the meaning of the painting derives rather from the relations between the separate forms on the canvas. By the positioning of the forms and their juxtaposed colors, the artist creates visual tension between them. The eye is drawn from one to another in ways that convey motion and forces, attraction and repulsion between the bodies, thus defining space and depth. Yet the artist must also preserve and acknowledge the two-dimensionality of the canvas. The successful artist must harness all these tools in harmony to create an overall unity of the piece, expressing their own spiritual statement. Hofmann wrote that, "The work of art is firmly established as an independent object; this makes it a picture. Outside of it is the outer world. Inside of it, the world of an artist."

Mrs. Hertzberg's best-known work, her Genesis series, Music series and associated series of abstract oils, created starting in 1966 and continuing through the 1970s, demonstrate her embrace of these principles and development of them in her own conception. In each painting, minute and complex patterns of lines and shapes merge into a few simple forms - orbs, arcs or elongated figures. At one point, two forms appear to be squeezing together; at another, sliding past and over one another in constant motion. Bulbous forms placed off-balance to the frame create impressions of weight. Forms stretch beyond the edge of the frame to lend the illusion of vast space and depth, giving the work a unique power.

Yet chance contributed as much as deliberation to the development of this style. Mrs. Hertzberg told how the onset of arthritis caused her to revise her technique. She wrote, "From the start, I was an easel painter. Suddenly, everything turned around for me - I lost the ability to raise my right arm. But in some way I had to continue my work, so I learned to paint flat. As a result, my vision and style changed. I became more relaxed - more reflective, and also took more chances. I started to work in layers- opening up the new layers to reveal what went on underneath. Each painting took longer to develop and realize, and a very personal style took hold. I've always been challenged and curious about new materials and new methods and since I work in series, I'm able to stretch my thoughts and develop the forms and color to the utmost." She explained, "Life forms and earth and sea forms emerged; forms of generation. They were the beginning of a new organic style."

Applying paint with her hand, brushes, cloth, a sponge, or a toothbrush, Mrs. Hertzberg allowed the paint to pool in thick layers, and then successively removed patches of paint using a brush loaded with mineral spirits, the colors of the revealed layers blending in a shimmery iridescent quality. Patches of cloth or paper glued to the canvas added texture. Because the paintings were created lying flat, working all around the painting, the pieces can be hung in several directions with equally good results.

For Mrs. Hertzberg, visual impressions of the natural world and the human world were a constant source of direct inspiration for both the themes and visual forms in her art. The Music series of paintings were developed directly from live sketches she made of Leonard Bernstein rehearsing with the New York Philharmonic. On the canvas, each musician is reduced to a small shape, these merge into a large form representing the orchestra, and the tension among several forms expresses the emotion of the music. These paintings were later exhibited at Lincoln Center. For the shapes in another pair of oil paintings, Mrs. Hertzberg was inspired by a dentist's photo of a tooth root under a microscope. Mrs. Hertzberg's Genesis series was created as a celebration of the diversity of natural life, expressed in color and in the organic forms on canvas.

A tireless worker, Mrs. Hertzberg sketched and worked constantly wherever she went. At her vacation home in Spain, she improvised an art studio and poured out dozens of abstract paintings and collages inspired by the local landscape. She frequently challenged herself with new media and styles - later in the 1970s by abandoning color to produce stark-white collages, and in the 1980s by making art out of paper itself, via handmade paper collage and abstract forms in torn paper. In addition, she pursued printmaking, pastel, watercolor and ceramic sculpture. Always she employed the principles of line, plane, form and color to express a statement in powerful and arresting images. The oil paintings of the Genesis series and Music series represent the artist at the height of her maturity and the peak of her strength.


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