The Art of Art Rosenbaum remains a local treasure around Athens

Sean Mills,, May 22, 2013

There are certain “door opening” phrases which are used to bring up the subject of Art Rosenbaum. Did you know he won a Grammy? Did you know he just published a new book about folk music? Did you know he is writing a new book about the different ways to tune a banjo? Did you know he is a Professor Emeritus in Painting? Did you know he is one of a handful of local artists featured in the Georgia Museum of Art’s permanent collection?

Now we add, “Have you seen his incredible mural in the Richard B. Russell library?

He is so busy and prolific this large history painting which depicts monuments of Georgia history is actually old news by his standards. It is only one Rosenabaum’s many local treasures on display in Athens, Georgia. There are also drawings up in The Globe downtown, the favorite bar of University of Georgia Professors for decades. The Globe is also the place where Rosenbaum assembles his casual troupe of singers composed of fellow artists to sing Sea Shanties upstairs. Of course, you can also see Rosenbaum’s tryptich “Hurrican Season” upstairs of the immaculately remodeled Georgia Museum of Art. Rosenbaum is a popular name around town, but it isn’t just his pleasant and humble nature which has granted him his current status.

The canvas in Rosebaum’s hands is a decorative tapestry of pattern which moves the eye all around the composition of twisting lines and colorful forms.
If you have seen his work and know his style, it is clear why he is in demand. There is a classically trained excellence to his draftsmanship. The modeling of figures is volumetric and naturalistic. Still, there is regional flair to his brushwork and technique.

If you have been lucky enough to see Rosenabaum’s home studio you would appreciate the effect of handstiched quilts on his work. There is an obvious attention to detail in clothing, but also a more subtle influence of patterns. The canvas in Rosebaum’s hands is a decorative tapestry of pattern which moves the eye all around the composition of twisting lines and colorful forms.

These observations are true to much of his work, the drawings, the oil paintings, the personal portraits, and the monumental murals. However, we can observe the recent, “Doors” mural in the new Richard B. Russell library for specifics. The mural is dense. There are 46 recognizable figures and more unnamed figures in the crowd scenes. Technically, there is an interesting use of the wall’s physical door. The firecode required Rosenbaum to incorporate a fictive door over the building’s real one. It is executed to useful purpose, singling out the portrait of Senator Russell for a life-sized presence.

There are some recognizable likenesses like the self portait, but then there are also plenty of elusive figures. Would the average viewing audience recognize Martin Luther King Sr? Maybe. Would they recognize Fiddlin’ John Carson? Probably not. They are both emblematic of the civil rights history, for worse and better. Rosenabaum doesn’t hope to aggrandize or alter history, but captures it like a dutiful historian. That is not to say, Rosenabaum is without due consideration in his choice of characters and tableau.

One striking element of Art Rosenbaum’s style is brought into particular note in this mural, the clever depiction of media. The artist, himself, recalls the recurring prop of cameras, film projectors, audio tape, and television screens peppered into otherwise timelessly rural scenes. This habit is primarily an honest reflection of the moment, the artist depicts the tools he, himself used at the birth of his projects. Still, the result places technology in the tilted up landscape one feels comfortable visually connecting to Renaissance commissions. Painting projection light and the distorted parallax view of that projection screen are both experly done in a way that seems “right”.

It has already been hinted at, but it should be noted explicitly: Art Rosenabaum’s work is authentic because he’s authentically been there. This doesn’t mean that he has shaken hands with everyone in this mural from Andrew Young to Zell Miller, but he has spent a lifetime drawing from life. He has drawn all walks of life, rural and urban, landscape and portrait. He is like the famed Spanish painter Murillo who honed his craft drawing strangers in the marketplace before creating his masterpieces. Rosenbaum has spent a second career capturing the likeness of real folks. In some cases he also recorded their voices, too, which is after all how he got that Grammy award.

“Doors” and “Hurrican Season” as well as the piece at The Globe are treasures that are freely available to see, so when in Athens they are not to be missed.

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