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November 14, 2007

Randy Rosenthal at 60: Better Than Ever



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(click for larger version)
Randy Rosenthal is still surfing, water-skiing, tooling around in his fire-red, 25-year-old Austin Healy, and most of all carving and painting away in his hand-built Springs studio, producing even more imaginative, complicated wood sculptures, almost all on commission – no storage artist, he.

And he's just won an invitation to participate in the National Sculpture Society's 75th Annual Exhibition, a prestigious and highly regarded competition run by the oldest such organization in the country, which will put his work on view in the city for a few months and then make it part of a traveling exhibition going to South Carolina.

The entry piece, which should leave viewers gaping (how does he do it!), is Rosenthal's homage to Van Gogh. It consists of cleverly designed layered references, including an open loose leaf (with worn rings, no less), parts of postcards, stickies and yellow pads with pencil notes, booRandy Rosenthal is still surfing, water-skiing, tooling around in his fire-red, 25-year-old Austin Healy, and most of all carving and painting away in his hand-built Springs studio, producing even more imaginative, complicated wood sculptures, almost all on commission – no storage artist, he.

And he's just won an invitation to participate in the National Sculpture Society's 75th Annual Exhibition, a prestigious and highly regarded competition run by the oldest such organization in the country, which will put his work on view in the city for a few months and then make it part of a traveling exhibition going to South Carolina.

The entry piece, which should leave viewers gaping (how does he do it!), is Rosenthal's homage to Van Gogh. It consists of cleverly designed layered references, including an open loose leaf (with worn rings, no less), parts of postcards, stickies and yellow pads with pencil notes, bookmarks, and parts of Van Gogh paintings peeking through stacks of paper and magazines.

Van Gogh, he says, is his "favorite painter," and when he went to see the Van Gogh show at the Met a couple of years ago he could "feel Van Gogh's hand moving" in the self portrait. A week later, still "transfixed," Rosenthal felt Van Gogh moving through him onto pine.

With canny, disarming charm, the artist playfully owns up to being a self-promoter, eager for admiration and unashamedly proud of his "career." The noun gets air quotation marks because, unabashed as he may be about asserting his ego, Rosenthal also expresses a down-to-earth disregard for much in the Establishment art world, especially its obeisance to trends and so-called taste makers.

He seems, in some ways, still the laid back kid he was long ago in California, working on what he likes, when he likes, though, for sure, a long-hair photo of him with Andy Warhol and anecdotes about watching de Kooning paint in his studio suggest that the beach boy always knew pretty much what he wanted to do with his life – paint.

He was only eight or nine, but Rosenthal recalls the influence of Jackson Pollock in making him realize the difference between painting and illustration, and though he went on to get a BFA from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and thought of being a figurative artist, it was Pollock who made him aware that the act of painting itself "was the thing."

Rosenthal plays on that distinction in his sculpture. He is not trying to make a nautical chart look like a nautical chart but like a wooden sculpture of that chart. Indeed, his switch from mahogany to pine was to highlight the irony in the medium as the message.

But how did the young painter become a sculptor? In 1986 Norman Jaffee took out an ad in the Star for someone to build models, and thus was born Randy Rosenthal designer and master craftsman. He smiles impishly: he had been selected out of 37 people who answered the ad, all with degrees in architecture.

A little while later, he was carving waves and leaves for private homes and houses of worship – on the East End and all over the country. It was only in 1999, however, when he needed pieces for a show at Guild Hall, that it came to him: he was now a sculptor, working on his own.

He confesses to a childlike delight watching people who, several feet away from his sculptures, think they're seeing actual objects: an open, slightly riffled recipe book, cantilevered off a cutting board, a clutch of scallions, some sliced red peppers, mushrooms and Bermuda onions resting nearby. Or perhaps they've spotted his Sunday New York Times sections, with the magazine's filled-in crossword puzzle (and acrostic). Sometimes, he says – eyes rolling up in a mix of astonishment and mock horror – they're disappointed, they expected the real thing.

"You see that knot in the wood over here?" he'll quietly ask. Of course, by the time they've dropped their jaws, they've already "bought in" to the idea of the art.

The skill with which Rosenthal renders his themes in pine and acrylic – each sculpture executed from just a single block of wood! – is amazing. Although he began sculpting in mahogany, he soon switched to the more difficult pine, a more fragile wood, one that will turn silver unless protected from UV rays and, of course, a wood that presents the challenge of working with discernible grain. But he loves the way pine responds to acrylic and to his inspirational style. He likes to work "fast and loose," tightening up only in the final stages.

Like his spiritual mentor Van Gogh, Rosenthal designs some of his own materials for particular effects. These include a fishtail gouger and a palette knife, usually used on clay, to which he has affixed sandpaper. There, similarity ends. Randy Rosenthal has been and continues to be successful, and at last report still has two ears intact. To see his work, visit randallrosenthal.comkmarks, and parts of Van Gogh paintings peeking through stacks of paper and magazines.

Van Gogh, he says, is his "favorite painter," and when he went to see the Van Gogh show at the Met a couple of years ago he could "feel Van Gogh's hand moving" in the self portrait. A week later, still "transfixed," Rosenthal felt Van Gogh moving through him onto pine.

With canny, disarming charm, the artist playfully owns up to being a self-promoter, eager for admiration and unashamedly proud of his "career." The noun gets air quotation marks because, unabashed as he may be about asserting his ego, Rosenthal also expresses a down-to-earth disregard for much in the Establishment art world, especially its obeisance to trends and so-called taste makers.

He seems, in some ways, still the laid back kid he was long ago in California, working on what he likes, when he likes, though, for sure, a long-hair photo of him with Andy Warhol and anecdotes about watching de Kooning paint in his studio suggest that the beach boy always knew pretty much what he wanted to do with his life – paint.

He was only eight or nine, but Rosenthal recalls the influence of Jackson Pollock in making him realize the difference between painting and illustration, and though he went on to get a BFA from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and thought of being a figurative artist, it was Pollock who made him aware that the act of painting itself "was the thing."

Rosenthal plays on that distinction in his sculpture. He is not trying to make a nautical chart look like a nautical chart but like a wooden sculpture of that chart. Indeed, his switch from mahogany to pine was to highlight the irony in the medium as the message.

But how did the young painter become a sculptor? In 1986 Norman Jaffee took out an ad in the Star for someone to build models, and thus was born Randy Rosenthal designer and master craftsman. He smiles impishly: he had been selected out of 37 people who answered the ad, all with degrees in architecture.

A little while later, he was carving waves and leaves for private homes and houses of worship – on the East End and all over the country. It was only in 1999, however, when he needed pieces for a show at Guild Hall, that it came to him: he was now a sculptor, working on his own.

He confesses to a childlike delight watching people who, several feet away from his sculptures, think they're seeing actual objects: an open, slightly riffled recipe book, cantilevered off a cutting board, a clutch of scallions, some sliced red peppers, mushrooms and Bermuda onions resting nearby. Or perhaps they've spotted his Sunday New York Times sections, with the magazine's filled-in crossword puzzle (and acrostic). Sometimes, he says – eyes rolling up in a mix of astonishment and mock horror – they're disappointed, they expected the real thing.

"You see that knot in the wood over here?" he'll quietly ask. Of course, by the time they've dropped their jaws, they've already "bought in" to the idea of the art.

The skill with which Rosenthal renders his themes in pine and acrylic – each sculpture executed from just a single block of wood! – is amazing. Although he began sculpting in mahogany, he soon switched to the more difficult pine, a more fragile wood, one that will turn silver unless protected from UV rays and, of course, a wood that presents the challenge of working with discernible grain. But he loves the way pine responds to acrylic and to his inspirational style. He likes to work "fast and loose," tightening up only in the final stages.

Like his spiritual mentor Van Gogh, Rosenthal designs some of his own materials for particular effects. These include a fishtail gouger and a palette knife, usually used on clay, to which he has affixed sandpaper. There, similarity ends. Randy Rosenthal has been and continues to be successful, and at last report still has two ears intact. To see his work, visit randallrosenthal.com

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