I recently had the pleasure of visiting Lisa Rosenstein in her workspace at the 52 O Street Studios building. I worked with Lisa on a two-artist exhibition in 2010, but this was the first time I had actually been in her studio. 52 O Street was constructed in 1917 and served as a warehouse for companies such as People’s Wholesale and Decca Records. The four story building was converted into art studios in 1979 and boasts over 50,000 square feet of space over four floors.
Lisa met me at the front door of her building and guided me up a series of wood staircases (complete with the requisite creaks and groans) to her third floor studio. Upon entering the space, the first thing the visitor will notice is the sunlight streaming into the studio through a wall of large, east-facing windows. The high ceilings and ample light lend her studio a feeling of spaciousness that belies the 15 x 15 foot dimensions of the room. Two of the walls are covered with finished pieces of various sizes, while the wall opposite the windows holds a large piece (over eight feet across) on which she is currently working. Two workbenches hold the tools ranging from paint brushes to trowels as well as a plethora of various found objects ranging from string to broken pottery shards.
The second thing the visitor will notice is the fact that her pieces are overwhelmingly white. As we sat down to talk over tea and biscotti, I asked her about the notable absence of color. Early in her artistic career she used a very colorful palette, evidenced by two smaller pieces hung on the brick wall between two windows. She found as time passed and she struggled with life’s various chaotic moments, honing in on the color white allowed her to work in a more thoughtful, almost meditative way. By working in white Lisa forces the viewer’s eye to focus on the textural elements of the piece, as well as the shadows that move across the canvas as the light changes.
Interestingly, she doesn’t view herself as a Minimalist artist, nor does she strive to strip her pieces of perceived nonessential elements. On the contrary, she weaves a personal narrative into each of her pieces though careful placement of found objects on the canvas. What appear at first glance to be squiggles of rope or lines of buttons are actually markers that denote the passage of time or events in her life. I asked her what type of people tended to purchase her work. She laughed and said she sells to a lot of therapists and psychiatrists. Given the Rorschach-like quality of her pieces, that is easy to understand.
Lisa’s work takes time to digest and she freely admits her work doesn’t appeal to all buyers. That led us to an interesting discussion on how up-and-coming, non-gallery represented artists work to get noticed in DC. Lisa is an avid believer of just “throwing oneself out there” and participating in as many juried opportunities as possible at local galleries. At the same time, she noted that artists in DC have really taken matter into their own hands over the last several years by hosting their own events like home shows and pop-up galleries outside of the more traditional gallery system. Lisa’s use of the internet has also opened a whole new world of options to self-market, and her online presence has led to sales and commissions as far away as California.
Before I said my goodbyes, Lisa gave me a sneak peek at a piece she is working on that represents a new direction for her. On the far wall of her studio is an eight foot sheet of butcher paper covered in what could most aptly be described as a knitted spider web. She carefully detached a section from the paper and allowed me to touch. While the material looks flimsy, it actually is quite resilient to the touch, and I found I could bend the webbing without fear of causing a tear. When finished, her “big net” as she calls it will be her first full-fledged experiential piece, mimicking a cacoon that envelopes the viewer as they walk inside it. I’m already making plans to return to see the finished piece!
For more information about Lisa Rosenstein, visit her website at www.lisakrosenstein.com