by Lester Strong
To encounter the art of Allan Rosenfield is to enter a world of seductive color, shape, and texture. It’s not just beautiful to the eye but—surprisingly enough for work situated four-square within a painterly tradition—appealing to the sense of touch as well. This is true whether the art that you're encountering is his signature canvas-shaped-as-kimono pieces that are draped to hang from horizontal poles, his "flat" paintings and drawings on canvas and board framed to hang on walls, or his brightly colored gourds.
Rosenfield’s dual approach is no accident. In a discussion about his art, he told me: “I always encourage people who see my work to touch it. The pieces aren’t just color for the eye; they’re tactile for the hand. I like to think that even a blind person could touch them and get something out of them. I encourage owners of my hangings to try their own arrangements. I say, “Change the painting, change the mood.” This is hardly the typical gallery or museum attitude, where the rule is: "Look at the art and interpret it, but never touch or change it."
Just why Rosenfield likes to create art that is both visual and tactile is less an aesthetic question than a psychological one, but the result is lushly colored, evocatively shaped pieces that escape the box of conventional art categories. Rosenfield’s work also escapes the eastern art/western art divide by incorporating elements of both.
To those familiar with his art, it should come as no surprise that he studied for a time on a Fulbright Fellowship at Osaka University of the Arts, interested mainly in Japanese calligraphy and ideograms as art forms. According to Rosenfield, "What primarily attracts me is the great fluidity and freedom of expression that Japanese artists allow themselves within a set of very rigidly defined and imposed rules, to see how they have traditionally gone about breaking their own rules to create something new, totally new hybrids. "In a way that's what I'm doing: creating new, hybrid art."
The eastern influence on Rosenfield's art is clear in the kimono-like shapes of his draped canvases. The western influences are equally clear in the touch of expressionist abstraction that you see in those same pieces, as well as the great swaths of color field pigments in which they're awash. One hears about "fusion cuisines" that bring together the great traditions of Asian cooking. Perhaps one could refer to Rosenfield's work as "fusion art that offers viewers new insights into beauty and enduring grandeur of art in both eastern and western traditions.
Which brings me to a final point in this appreciation of Allan Rosenfield's art. In our discussion, I asked him what is at the center of his artistic ambition. He responded, "I would say beauty. Beauty is at the core of everything that I do artistically."
This is a simple enough answer, but startling in terms of today's art world where reaching for the new, the unexpected, the bizarre, even the shocking seems to be the norm among artists always looking for ways to capture the attention of a jaded art market that is ready to bestow great rewards on artistic inventiveness. Rosenfield's art is neither shocking nor bizarre. It is, however, fresh, inventive, and, unexpectedly in the contemporary art world, emphasizes a beauty it insists on sharing with viewers.
In this respect, it's worth quoting Rosenfield again from our discussion about his art. He said, "I think beauty has been given a bum rap by a lot of folks in the art and academic establishments in the last thirty years; but it's the one really transcendent quality about art that can speak to everybody, to every viewer across the board, and be really, really universal."
Beauty gets no bum rap in Rosenfield's work, which is fortunate indeed for those who are lucky enough to encounter his art, see it, even touch it, and find that it speaks to them, or perhaps, touches them back.
Lester Strong is Special Projects Editor of A&U Magazine, a monthly publication with a nationwide readership that focuses on all aspects of the AIDS crisis. His writings on the visual, written, and performing arts have appeared in publications from coast to coast.