Slide 1: Rosalyn Drexler, “Rub Out” (1982) acrylic and paper collage on canvas 30 x 40 in. / Slide 2: “Chuck Watches Rescue” (1989) / Slide 3: “Woman Sawed in Half” (1989) Acrylic on canvas 36 x 48 in. / Slide 4: “Shoot to Kill (Breaking News)” (2014) Acrylic and paper collage 40 x 30 in. / Slide 5: “Put it This Way” (1963) The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.
Minions, Molls, and Masked Marauders: The World of Rosalyn Drexler
You can almost hear the cock of a revolver or the smack of a bitch slap. Protagonists in the universe of artist Rosalyn Drexler stand on the cusp of something realized or in the aftermath of peril.
To immerse oneself in her collages and paintings is to see through the prism of film noir. Melodramas unfold as on film or on stage; In one instance, a man in an overcoat hunches forward in a pool of blood. Another is carted away in dubious fashion. A woman is sawed in half, her breasts exposed. A boxer is caught landing a punch while nefarious backroom discussions take place and gangbangers mill about.
So you don’t know how to draw?! No Problem!
Having never mastered the art of drawing, Rosalyn relies on a process whereby she layers swatches of paint over found images on canvas. She began her career as a sculptor of found objects but turned to collage and painting when a relative gave her old movie posters.
In his article “Rosalyn Drexler’s Noir Paintings” (Hyperallergic March 25, 2015), the writer John Yau suggests that Drexler, an acclaimed Emmy award-winning author and screenwriter, whose knowledge of theater and film influenced her paintings, “practices cross pollination of her multiple disciplines”.
Like an author birthing characters, Rosalyn views her protagonists as extensions of herself. She goes as far as seeing her images “animated”. Earlier in her career, she developed an adherence to line and found that by combining collage and paint, she exerted more control in telling stories. She explains:
“I adored my coloring books…I was addicted to outlining the pictures in contrasting colors and enjoyed staying within the lines. Need the control. My work begs for control. After all, I captured the images and buried them; now they want to escape. They lie layered and still, unable to move. They are contained and I can breathe a sigh of relief.”
From “Rosalyn Drexler’s Noir Paintings” (Hyperallergic March 25, 2015)
Above: Installation view of “The Greatest Show on Earth”, the Garth Greenan Gallery, New York and “Masked Reader” (1988) Acrylic and collage on canvas
Containment and Escape
Rosalyn illustrates a dichotomy in her practice where she exerts control of her images while simultaneously, portraying figures with a penchant for escape. We see this in “Woman Sawed in Half” (1989). In a surreal moment, a magician saws his assistant in half. She lies at at angle. A blade looms precariously above her frame while her bosom peeps out of like pool toy appendages. The protagonist sports a blue mohawk and purple bow tie, and waves a single white hand in a show of disapproval. A pillar rises into the air. The artist select stark blues, reds and yellows to heighten sensation.
Above: “Climbing Out of a Painting Ain’t Easy” (2012)
The theme of escape in continued in “Climbing Out of a Painting Ain’t Easy”, 2012. Staged in the center of the piece, two figures tumble forward. Highly saturated colors – crimson, electric blue, lemon yellow, day-glow orange – create jarring sensations. Her palette imbues a carnival atmosphere. The two figures are engulfed in a sea of red while juxtaposing patterns and stippling effects impart a feeling of disorientation.
The Garth Greenan gallery is currently showcasing her newest protagonists in “The Greatest Show on Earth”. While Roslyn continues her preoccupations, we see among her band of usual suspects, newbies in the form of magicians and acrobats. If these new actors wish to escape from the picture plane remains another matter. Is it the greatest show on earth? That is a question for the viewer to decide.
Rosalyn Drexler: “The Greatest Show on Earth” Garth Greenan Gallery, now through March 30th
Installation view of “Greatest Show on Earth” The Gary Greenan Gallery, New York (2012)