Joseph Rossano: Harbingers
When the forests are all gone, will we all go with them? [Artist’s statement, Feb. 2007]
Artist Joseph Rossano remembers his childhood experiences in the Catskill Mountains as a formative influence on his creative thinking and personal philosophy. Today, he dwells in the North Cascade foothills in Washington state, a personal migration prompted by artistic and ecological goals where the early influences have matured into a consistent esthetic vision and direction.
Like the American transcendentalist writers, philosophers and artists who trekked the pristine Catskill forests two centuries ago, Rossano finds a similar—but more deeply elegiac—context to express his attitudes about wilderness and civilization coexisting on the Pacific Rim. Through his eyes, the artist sees the reverse mirror of Emerson—our destiny today is to guard the wilderness from civilization or face the peril of both vanishing.
Rossano recognizes this interrelationship and dependency in multi-faceted works of art that express a clear and logical intent. As a master glassworker, woodworker and photographer, he expresses a deep engagement with the tools and the materials of his craft. Moreso, he is cognizant of the intrinsic ability of tools and substances to express profound meaning.
An example is Rossano’s use of hand-split or hand-milled western red cedar, a wood prized for its color and clear texture and subsequently endangered as a primeval entity. He is well aware of the implications, and chooses to engage both. He uses large-format view cameras to capture richly detailed (and unadulterated) views of the timeless landscape, on one hand an homage to the pioneer photographers of the wilderness and on the other a reminder that this tradition—and its subject—are in flux.
Glass, while not the dominant element in Rossano’s recent work, occupies a crucial place nonetheless. Glass can suggest both presence and disappearance, or solidity and ephemerality, notions that are absolutely vital to the message and meaning of his work.
Rossano typically does not meld or manipulate his mediums into a synthetic whole. Rather, each component of his sculptural or wall-relief assemblages is a distilled yet complete statement of form and meaning. By employing natural references (such as animal species, arboreal climates and habitats) with an elegant and pristine handling of materials and development of forms, the artist creates a visual ecosystem in which to comment on the global ecosystem of our contemporary existence.
These ecosystems and the narratives which are created rely on a very reductive formalist approach. In the works titled Polar Night and Though Heavy Snow, a lone polar bear hand-sculpted in crystal stands isolated against the backdrop of a brooding and seemingly infinite mass, its surface of rough vertical ridges dusted with subtly colored light and shadow. Rossano evokes the aurora borealis, glacial masses and ice floes, and a key harbinger of global warming in the Arctic by the most economical of means.
Like the American transcendentalists, Rossano’s forays into the wilderness and back again has yielded a deeper appreciation, as well as a powerful sense of urgency, about our role in the natural world.
Ron Glowen is an art writer based in Seattle. He has written extensively on contemporary art, including glass, for numerous periodical and museum publications
(written by Ron Glowen for Elliott-Brown Gallery in November 2007)