The artist, Rosalyn Engelman, says that her paintings ‘mirror the passage of time’ and the word ‘mirror’, like all her words, is well chosen. Her paintings are full of luminosity energized by the brushstrokes that she says have the tempo of the music that she listens to as she paints. Although her work is often exuberantly colorful, her thoughts and the expression of those thoughts are precise, the kind of dichotomy she loves in Asian art, which has also greatly influenced her painting.
I liked this idea that you paint not so much to reveal a specific theme but to reveal a specific quality of something like color or light. Is that something you consciously set out to do.
I don’t find myself doing anything without thinking, although what I do is so natural to me that it seems to go straight out of my head to my fingers. As you know I am very influenced by Asian art and in Asian art less is revealed than the implied. My work doesn’t reveal itself instantly. I’m very aware of the compositional elements in my paintings, and now it’s second nature to me – however there is a great deal of ambiguity in my work and that is because of the Asian influence.
What do you feel like at the end of a day of painting?
I work every day and at the end of the day sometimes I’m exhilarated and sometimes it’s a painful process.
Why is it painful?
It is painful emotionally because one draws on memory the whole time.
What’s the nature of the pain, can you elaborate?
I’m always concerned with the beauty and the cruelty of the human soul. Man’s aspirations are wonderful. Sometimes his actions are not so wonderful. In my installation at the Arts Club, I painted everything with beautiful colors in a very seductive way, but the subject matter is not beauty … I remember the first time I went to see Katsura Imperial Palace. There are a series of tea houses. Each one is simple but magnificent and to get to them you have to walk around them on stepping stones … and it’s beautiful but it’s precarious … that’s part of the pleasure of living, it’s the Tao, the search.
When did Asian art enter your consciousness?
Well, I always loved it … I can’t remember exactly when … my mother loved gardens. [points to one of her paintings on the wall entitled ‘Iris Walk’] … that’s her iris garden.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in upstate New York, Ferndale NY. It was a bucolic community at the time. I lived across from a huge dairy farm and we had acreage and it was a combination of resort community and farm community.
Ferndale? I don’t know where that is.
It’s the Catskills. There were doctors and lawyers and the town was thriving. Recently I went back because a friend who also lives in New York said they were having a historical tour. You can’t go home again. It was so depressing. It’s like a blighted area. The passage of time is also a quality in my work. Sometimes I add mica to my work because when you walk around, it changes, and it suggests the passage of time.
Is bad art valid in any way?
It’s an expression of whoever is doing it. Bad art at one time is not bad art at another time. Eugène Delacroix, if his father had not been Talleyrand, his work would not have been shown. When I stand in front of the ‘Death of Sardanapalus’ it blows my mind! Think of when it was done! How it was done! Tilting the picture plate forward! Fragmenting the brush strokes! Using color that hadn’t been used before! They thought it was awful – his father got him into the Louvre.
What do you think of the notion of ‘outsider’ art?
There’s always a group of outsiders. Louise Nevelson was ‘outsider art’ at one time. Her life was terrible. She had to give up her child. She walked the streets. She couldn’t afford food or clothes. Art is outsider art until it’s accepted.
You’re a wealthy artist. You live in this expensive apartment…
I didn’t grow up wealthy. I’m lucky that I married someone who was successful. But there were many artists who lived in castles … when I go to my studio I put on dirty jeans and a sweatshirt and I work just like anyone else.
I understand that you paint to music. What kind of music do you listen to.
I like Phillip Glass … and I love Beethoven and Mozart. With Beethoven I always feel the undertone of great sadness, even in a piece that might superficially appear frivolous or joyous.
What was the last book you read?
‘Jackson’ – the biography of Jackson Pollock.
Do you come home and cook a meal at night?
I used to cook. And then one day I just said to my husband: ‘That’s it — kitchen’s closed!