John Rosewall’s Gripping Exhibition at the Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825
by Genie Davis
on view through October 13th
John Rosewall’s Grip, now at Los Angeles Art Association/Gallery 825 (LAAA) through October 13th, is one of four beautifully rendered solo shows on exhibit and a compelling standout. Rosewall’s work here is based on photographs taken by the artist and those culled from other sources.
The dark color palette of the work adds to the gravitas of the exhibition, whose heightened realism is packed with tension and power. And power is the key in paintings which meticulously study the relationship between those in power and those without it. As a potent political statement, Rosewall has ratcheted up these images in profound ways, finding the absolute essence of their meaning. In Rosewall’s work, we see the word grip itself visualized – something held and something grasped and grasping.
Working in acrylic on canvas, the Los Angeles-based artist reveals the ways in which people literally and figuratively grip each other and the power behind that. From handshakes to physical restraint, it is this action that takes center stage in paintings with true gravitas and import. Rosewall’s backgrounds fade, the faces of the attackers or power brokers disappear, and we see instead the action of gripping, being gripped, being held. The figures here are either maintaining their hold on the world order or they are losing their grip in the struggle. These images are universal, the actions portrayed aggressive and consuming.
Rosewall’s “Cull” features one man holding another in a choke hold; the victim is blindfolded, his own hands behind him as if bound. His visible features reveal panic and fear. The attacker is faceless, and in making him so, the artist allows the viewer to more easily see and feel what the victim does – nothing but the power and pain of that chokehold. The heavily muscular arms of the attacker are all the victim feels and all we need to know. While this is a fraught image, the viewer is also involved in the very real, very beautiful wrinkles in the white blindfold, in the blue shirt the victim is wearing, in the bulging, perfectly realized muscles of the aggressor’s arms. This work is as beautiful as it is frightening.
With “Obedience,” Rosewall is also dealing with aggressive argument. Here two figures grapple against a dark, almost visually overwhelming background, the men are tangled limbs; the darkness is both visceral and metaphorical, difficult to emerge from and the perfect setting to conquer, unseen. Here, too, the viewer can almost feel what this confrontation is like, the realism of the folds of clothing, the shadings of the skin, a tangle of dark hair.
In “Touch,” there is even less visible: here a gloved hand rests on the back of a man in a white tank top. The man in the white shirt is swarthy-skinned, his head is bowed forward, his hands unseen. He is no longer fighting. The viewer is left to assume the relationship between the two: it evokes a police presence, that hand pressing the way to a potential arrest. In “Evidence,” the mood and palette are darker still. Wearing a face mask, a man who appears to be wearing hospital scrubs, perhaps a medical examiner, is lifting back the cover on a figure whose pale white skull and crumpled position is the textbook example of lifelessness. Here, this man has lost his grip for good.
But others are in no danger of losing control. In “Bargain,” two heavy-set, business-suit wearing men are shaking hands. These two are in collusion, the way that powerbrokers can be; emblematic of a patriarchal, privileged power play.
Once a photographer, then an abstract artist, Rosewall employs both the realism of photographic documentary technique and an abstract framing of his realistic subjects. There’s also something that evokes the classic art of Edward Hopper in these works. Perhaps it’s the elegant sense of stillness, of something happening just beyond the viewer’s – grasp.