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“Sanctum”, by Rebecca Rose, photograph, 21x25in, 2018
Reborn by Rebecca Rose
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright, © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I have felt for many years that adult artists are often looking to recapture the way they saw the world as a child; to cut loose the baggage we gathered growing up and see again with such uncluttered innocence. Rebecca Rose is up to something very much like that in Reborn, her current exhibit at First Light Gallery.
In her Artist’s Statement, Rose describes that her goal was to, “…to see as a child again, still lucid with original innocence and untainted by societal conditioning or environmental influences.” She also ties her motivation to inner-child therapy, which positions the viewer to seek indications of trauma that have colored the artist’s past.
It is an arguable point that all art is autobiographical, but photography lends itself to the supposition perhaps more easily than other mediums. The inherent documentary aspect of the camera which kept photography from being fully accepted as an art form for generations is here seized by Rose and put into use as a subjective device. Her choices of models, costumes, and contextual details are couched in spaces that we must assume have symbolic importance in Rose’s self-identity; interiors from the past that evoke more than we might ever invest in an image created with paint or clay.
Most obviously, Rose uses a church sanctuary, but the threat of cliche is mostly avoided because such images are iconic. Houses of worship play a role in most American childhoods and conjure meaningful associations for almost any viewer. Rose doesn’t deny the simple, clarified atmosphere in one color photograph, but there is another narrative occurring in “Sanctum”, in which the figure of a young girl recurs throughout the pews. Is the position of supplication meant to show her praying or in emotional turmoil? Neither is inappropriate in this setting, but the Artist’s Statement might suggest the latter.
The young girl appears in other pictures, Rose’s stand-in for the rediscovery of her Inner Child, to pick up the healing parlance, but she is never smiling. Gazing out from a bathtub and alongside a goldfish in a bowl, the child has been crying (“The Taste of Tears”). In another, she peers over her shoulder positioned at a classroom chalkboard. What are we to infer from these images? Rose doesn’t provide easy answers, even though her context feels so familiar.
Older but still young female figures display introspection and sexual self-awareness. “Telekinesis” reveals the artist’s digital manipulation, used with admirable enough discretion so that we aren’t made aware of it except for here. Technically the images are printed with a subtle enough touch that we have to step away to realize that the colors and lighting are consciously altered for effect. There is an intriguing balance of the natural and the surreal at work here.
“In A Month’s Time” also intrigues, although the positioning of red fiber in the girl’s hands, however artfully arranged, feels a tad too obvious. So is the use of the church, but I think the difference is that the red detail is a contrivance that can never bring the universality of experience claimed by the sanctuary. The imagined age of the girl portrayed in the image, and the title, is enough to lead the viewer where Rose wants them to go.
Taken as a whole, the group of work escapes that dilemma; exactly how confessional Rose’s work actually is we can only guess at. Even with the deliberateness of her statement mounted on the gallery wall, there is still a wealth of mystery in the images. If arrogant presumption leads us to certain conclusions, they are conclusions that may reveal more about our own individual history of pain, and that is one of the most important things art can do. Like any important artist, finally, Rose lets the audience complete the journey for themselves.
Reborn by Rebecca Rose
August 3-September 29, 2018
First Light Gallery
1009 East Main Street
Louisville, KY 40206
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.