Partners in Art

Julie Phillips, Athens Banner-Herald, August 8, 2010

Try as a reporter might to weave a romantic spin into Art and Margo Newmark Rosenbaum’s 43-year marriage, it’s just not their way to wax poetic.

Practical is the name of the game when it comes to discussing most matters for the Rosenbaums, even their artistry. And you have to appreciate that: Their rivers run deep, and they’re not muddy.

They married Dec. 10, 1966, in New York’s City Hall, Margo recounts — though there was a time, she admits with a laugh, that they couldn’t remember if it was Dec. 9th or 10th. “We finally figured it out,” she says.

They met at a friend’s party, who invited them with their musicianship in mind — Art, who played guitar and banjo, and Margo, who played guitar. It wasn’t a set-up or anything, Margo says. And again, though she’s not one to linger in nostalgia, she says there were some mutual interests between the two.

Music and the folk revival were a part of it, and both were visual artists as well. Art had earned his master’s degree in painting and drawing at Columbia University; Margo had earned her bachelor’s degree in painting and drawing at the San Francisco Art Institute (and went on to earn a master’s degree in painting and drawing from the University of Iowa). Margo says photography initially was just a means to that end.

“I could use photographs as information for painting and drawing,” she says. “But I got sidetracked with it.” (She wanted to major in photography at Iowa, but it wasn’t an option, she says).

“I consider it painting with light,” she adds, and after a moment notes “Art’s so much a painter, I didn’t want to get into any kind of competition.”

And so it was a great marriage — both literally and artistically. Margo’s photographs would go on to add rich visual imagery to Art’s other artistic pursuit: field recording.

The retired University of Georgia art professor won a Grammy in 2009 for his “Art of Field Recording: Volume 1,” which traces back more than 50 years of his tracking down people who carry on the tradition of folk music — songs that would be lost in our modern lexicon if not for his microphone and tape reels, songs passed from grandparent to grandchild over and over again, sung or played as close to their origins as we’re likely ever to hear.

Margo says she tagged along for those recordings with her camera as a way to keep her husband’s company.

“It was one way to see Art,” she says. “If I hadn’t taken up something, I wouldn’t have gotten to see him much!”

(To get an idea of the scope of Art’s field recording collection, there are, so far, two boxed sets in the “Art of Field Recording,” with four discs each).

Margo, whose work has remained just barely in the shadow of Art’s, has produced a lifetime of images that are gorgeously moody and resonant and, notes her husband, “have strong formal qualities, while relaying a strong human empathy at the same time.”

It’s an observation evident in their latest show together, “New Work by Art Rosenbaum and Margo Newmark Rosenbaum,” at Mercury Art Works, located inside Hotel Indigo in downtown Athens.

The artists have shown their work often together; Margo’s photographs are included in the liner notes booklet of “The Art of Field Recording,” and they’ve also published several books together.

In this particular exhibit, curators Sandi Turner and Chris Wyrick have chosen a diverse collection of the artists’ work that spans a variety of media as well.

Best known for his large-scale oil paintings, Art is represented in the show with two of these, while charcoal drawings, a trio of pastels and a triptych in cassein make up the rest of the exhibit.

The triptych, titled “Neptune’s Barber,” is a typically dense and vibrant work for Art, its figures beckoning the viewer into a narrative only they seem to know. It will leave you spellbound, even so.

“You don’t know what everything means that you encounter on the street,” Art says, relating the ambiguous storytelling in his work. “But it sets off a process of association that I hope becomes richer the more time you spend with it.

“I don’t mean it to be offputting,” he adds, “that it’s something the viewer isn’t being let in on. They’re elements from life, people I’ve met; there’s a self-portrait and a portrait of Margo there.”

He says his heroes “are the ones whose creative works demand some time,” though he’s quick to add that he doesn’t consider himself in their company.

Regardless, a viewer can’t help but spend time with his work. And feel it’s time well-spent.

Art’s trio of pastels, “Falls at Tuckaway 1-3” show the artist in another medium and subject matter. These are landscapes (he’s a figurative artist for the most part), and are alive with fluid lines in the water’s motion, and wild abandon and chaos in the woods and land around it.

And just as compelling are Margo’s large digital photographs, taken on the couple’s trips to Ecuador in 2009 (with the University of Georgia) and in Japan in April of this year (where they attended a wedding).

Composition and color are vivid, and in some cases create an almost abstract quality, though never so much that the connection with the subject is lost. There’s also a clear fascination on the artist’s part in seeing each country’s ancient tradition co-mingling with its present, modern culture.

Also presented are luminous black and white silver gelatin prints (taken during Art’s field recordings). Margo’s ability to capture a moment at its height probably is most evident in “Doc and Lucy with Kids Singing, 1978.” The subjects, Athens’ own Doc and Lucy Barnes, with their children, are completely lost in the song, drawing us in so much we want to know what they’re singing.

Thankfully, Art can answer the question, and has it committed to tape — “Teach Me Master, Teach Me How To Pray,”  which is included on the first volume of “The Art of Field Recording,” he says.

He notes that the photograph is typical of Margo’s talent behind the lens.

And on that note, feedback is another thing the two don’t wax poetic about.

“We do look at each other’s work,” Art says. “We talk to each other and are very honest — we’re not a mutual admiration society,” he adds with a laugh. “But I really respect Margo’s eye and her opinions. We learn from each other.”

Read article on