Laura Von Rosk lives with her dog Molly on a lagoon just outside Schroon Lake, New York. She curates the Courthouse Gallery at the Lake George Arts Project, a gallery dedicated to the experimental and the avant garde. She’s an old friend and a wonderful landscape painter. She paints landscapes of the hyperreal, sometimes vaguely reminiscent of the Adirondacks outside her window, but often deeply rooted in fantasy, formal invention and eros. Sometimes the land becomes a female nude, sometimes it is denuded. She never paints a human being in her scenes, though sometimes there are tracks or smoldering fires or lopped trees left behind by humans. Some of her most interesting work starts with a quotation or a reference. She loves the Hudson River School, illuminated manuscripts and the early renaissance Italians–but where they might fold a landscape around a church or a scene with figures, Von Rosk subtracts the human so that absence haunts her landscapes. She plays with form: the classical elongated S of landscape art leading back through the painting to the horizon becomes a track or a valley or a lake. She plays with holes, scoops, gouges, cliffs, crevices, rivers. Sometimes she paints fields of holes. And then she inverts the form and fills her pictures with bumps, lumps, hills, knobs and mounds. Everything she paints is small, layered with tiny brush strokes, painted over and over again, on laminated wood panels first covered with a white gesso and sanded glossy. What digital reproduction cannot show is the strangely beautiful effect of these layers of paint, the depth and glow of the images under good light. The aim here is not for realism or any kind of conventional romantic land(-e)scapism. Von Rosk’s trees are tree-ish without being trees; their oddness is startling and dreamlike. Her vision of Nature is melancholy, a bit lorn and bereft. But the layers of painting reflecting back at the viewer add an intensity, a luminescence that reminds one of religious icons. The paintings shown here all start from somewhere else. “Lake with Dead Trees” nods to Thomas Cole (notice how, from Cole to Von Rosk, the romantic deer in the foreground have disappeared). “Three Philosophers” is Von Rosk’s idea of Giorgione’s painting by the same name. “Black Trees” is inspired by Pieter Bruegel’s “Hunters in the Snow.” And “Untitled (craggy hills)” is Giotto without God, Christ or people. Vladimir Nabokov said somewhere that all books are about other books, and much the same can be said of painting. Von Rosk telescopes the history of art and lets it echo somewhere in the background along with the echoes of the absences, the people, the busy-ness, and the voices that have all gone mysteriously missing.
Lake with Dead Trees (after Cole), oil on wood, 12 x 12 inches.
Three Philosophers, oil on wood, 12″ x 12″.
Black Trees, oil on wood, 12″ x 12″.
Untitled (craggy hills), oil on wood, 10″ x 12″.
—Paintings by Laura Von Rosk
N.B. Some of you may remember that one of Von Rosk’s paintings graced the cover of the Vermont College of Fine Arts literary magazine Hunger Mountain, the Fall 2005 issue. She currently has a show on at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, New York.