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Paint By Numbers: Susie Rosmarin at Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston

While viewing Susie Rosmarin’s recent exhibition “Paint By Numbers” at Boston’s Bernard Toale Gallery, my mind kept wandering to the music of Dimitri From Paris. Two years ago, he released an amazingly sexy recording called A Night At The Playboy Mansion. The record’s cover sports a lovely nude woman with a proper afro, sitting in a stark white chair shaped like the Playboy bunny icon.

#51 (1471), 1994... Acrylic on canvas, 58 x 44 inches

The album’s title (written in a rounded gold font) is pure vintage, soulful style. Together the music and cover serve as a people-pleasing homage to the extravagant era of “Motown soul and “70s poppy headiness.” As The Velvet Underground was to the Factory, Dimitri From Paris is now the official soundtrack for latter-day orgiastic events.

These days, given the wealth of technological visual experiences available, many painters have resorted to Dimitri-esque indulgence as the one way that abstraction, and painting generally, can hope to compete. In the words of Amy Cappellazzo, “…abstract painting, perhaps the most serious and headstrong form of the visual arts, can’t take your call right now because it’s out having a good time.” With so little time for narrative or philosophical discourse, a good painting must act out like the stepchild it has become if it stands a chance of getting any attention.

Blue Diagonal Gingham Check, 2002... Acrylic on canvas 60 x 50 inches

Susie Rosmarin’s paintings (five of which are showcased in her first solo exhibition in Boston) capture this essence of abstract painting now. Her masked lines and grids of paint become pure visual nymphomania for the chromophile. Like Dimitri, Rosmarin’s paintings are stylish people-pleasing party tunes that can be switched from up tempo (BlueRedGreen Study #3) to down tempo (#47 [2478]), depending on the desired outcome for the evening. If you feel like pondering the origins of ’60s Op or if you’re curious enough to try and decipher her obsessive process, then there are plenty of underlying historical, sensual, mystical, and even hypnotic elements to hold your attention. However, if you simply feel like tossing back a few glasses and flirting with the connoisseur across the room, then Rosmarin’s works make a fitting decorative backdrop.

Her abstractions are optically charged; they generate phantom colors, afterimages, and dizzying dislocation, which cause you to pay special attention to your bodily location in relation to the painting. What at first seems to be an aloof canvas demanding highbrow analysis becomes a persistent seductress who wills your gaze. The vertical stripes of Canal Street Mini-Skirt bow and vibrate as you draw closer, simultaneously pulling you in and pushing you away. Tim Porges said of this phenomenon that “Rosmarin’s grids push the vibrational, hypnotic potential of the grid to its limit without losing its history as a meditational space.” If allowed, Blue Diagonal Gingham Check will easily lull you towards peacefulness, all the while burning your eyes like the sun.

Canal Street Mini-Skirt, 2002 ...Acrylic on canvas 72 x 84 inches

But removed from the heightened expectations of a gallery space, the paintings might ultimately move towards disappearance. Generic to the core, a painting like Blue Diagonal Gingham Check would be rendered nearly invisible in the midst of a shag rug and a plush velvet sofa. Most every aspect of Op has been so adulterated and recycled by interior designers and poster printers that it’s difficult to differentiate Rosmarin’s vested patterns from smart home decor. Her paintings become symbols of that omnipresent retro “look” that promises salvation through the Modernist ideal.

Ultimately, Rosmarin’s finished products are a result of her infatuation with the process of painting. Although visually different, all five works spanning a period of eight years barely scratch the surface of Rosmarin’s obsessively encoded process (cheekily referred to as “Paint By Numbers”). A strange tension between process and product emerges as one realizes that the meticulous process is in service of a nearly perfect finished product. Or perhaps the product is indeed in service of her love of process. Regardless, Rosmarin’s impeccable paintings in the end embrace indulgence, decoration, and contemporary culture with results that will surely make you weak in the knees.

BlueRedGreen Study #3, 2002... Acrylic on canvas 20 x 20 inches

Susie Rosmarin’s paintings are on view until June 22nd at Bernard Toale Gallery in Boston’s South End. Her work can be seen at Danese in New York City in September and at Angstrom Gallery in Dallas in November.

Quotations describing the music of Dimitri From Paris are courtesy of VH1 Online.

Quotation by Amy Capellazzo from the exhibition catalog for Glee: Painting Now at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in 2000-2001.

Quotation by Tim Porges taken from his article “A Demolition Derby of Art” featured in “The Octopus” (and reprinted in the catalog Post-Hypnotic).

Images are courtesy of the artist and Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston, MA.

C. Sean Horton is an artist living in Allston, MA.

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