Marlene Rose Catalog Preface
Marlene Rose's sculptures in glass are modern works of art that resonate with references and allusions to other cultures and civilizations. Rose is one of those rare artists who has discovered a profound way to connect the past and the present. Her work has an immediacy that transcends time and space. To be in the presence of her work is to feel connected to a continuum that started thousands of years ago on earth and millions of light years ago in the universe.
Her sculptures are endowed with an inner light that is a function of not only how they are made but also of her particular affinity for the medium of glass. Over time Rose has developed a vocabulary that is referential as well as abstract and the combination allows viewers access to a language that becomes their own.
For those not familiar with the process of sand casting glass seeing her objects for the first time may create a sense of wonder and mystery about how they came to be. When man discovered fire he never imagined that hot molten glass mixed with copper could produce objects of such beauty. Her forms are mysterious in how they absorb and reflect light. It seems a further puzzle to determine what culture they reference. Rose's work invites us to tap into our origins and through that contemplation become connected to her ideas.
Rose's preferred method of dialogue as she states it is "simple, bold and direct." That is why she is attracted to cultures that are more interested in forms that are "not about too many details and decoration." She is deeply concerned with the ability of her sculpture to provide opportunities for viewers to find part of themselves in the work she creates. She has worked in many media and she prefers glass because she thinks it "closely represents the spirit."
Rose's inspiration comes from many sources. She grew up in New York surrounded by art. Her mother was a painter and her father was a sculptor. One day her stimulus could be a color palette. Another day it could be a brake drum she has salvaged to recycle in her work; or it could be a design from a catalog she has received in the mail. She will see a shape or form and become "excited" because she can see a future sculpture. Rose often goes to the dump to find materials and objects that later will find their way into her work. While she now lives in a fifties house she restored with her husband who is an architect, she "feels very much at home in 3000 B.C." The Tang and Han dynasties in China have a particular resonance for Rose. She also likes Minoan temples. Buddha heads and African shields fascinate her. During her extensive travels she has collected a virtual museum of objects in her head that she can draw upon whenever she chooses to reference another culture. Certain images and forms return frequently in her creations in numerous guises. She will continue to use an image until it no longer resonates for her. While a similar Buddha head may occur in multiple works its reappearance recalls the multiple versions one might have found of Alexander's likeness in all the areas where his empire extended. The head is recognizable but each likeness has its own individual integrity.
Recently she has been looking at the quilts of Gee's Bend in Alabama. There is an abstract and linear quality to the patterns of the quilts that is sympathetic to her work. Painters who interest her include Paul Klee, Brice Marden, Mark Rothko, Sean Scully and Cy Twombly. Issues of abstract painting are important in her process of coloring the glass and giving it shape and presence. She speaks about the sand where she pours the molten glass being her canvas. She can "paint" with measures of colored glass crystals. Her sculpture in glass relies on light to give her forms their inner life. This is similar to the conviction Rothko had about the importance of inner light to a painting. She is drawn to the obsessive but simple patterns in Klee's compositions. The intense potency of Marden's painting is like her own and the intuitive spontaneity of Twombly she understands completely.
When looking at Rose's work one is reminded of the many pieces of Roman glass in museum collections around the world and in particular those examples where elements in the soil where they were buried have "colored" the glass. Rose's glass has a quality of rarity one associates with artifacts. Although only recently cast they look ancient. Archaeology connects the present with the past. The cataloging of objects found in historic sites connects us to them as the present civilization studying one that came before. Looking at Rose's work we sense an affinity with the past as if we were excavating aspects of it. That past may be our own experiences or the sense that we understand something about the history of the object we see before us. We have a visceral experience that is related to the production of the object. Hot molten glass is poured into molds in the sand and allowed to cool slowly over time. We understand how it was made. We sense the history of the work. We establish a connection to it.
The process of creating the glass sculpture is as important to Rose as the finished product. She likes to carve in clay or foam to make the forms that will be used in the sand casting. In the sand something happens. For her "it is all very spontaneous." Since her process is intuitive she often will realize what inspired an object long after she has made it. Sometimes it appears that residue from the sand co-mingles with the glass and gives it the patina of age. Rose likes that a work "looks old and dug up." Her objects that look excavated actually are designed by her to uncover feelings and emotions possessed by the viewer.
When casting the glass there are four on her team. She depends on their energy and the chemistry among the individuals in the group is very important. Things happen quickly and everyone needs to be of one mind. For Rose it is "like a dance of heat and light." She may be working with hot molten glass on a four or five foot column in the sand that then needs to be carried to the oven a few feet away. For her it is important "that the environment is calm and safe" when she is creating work. At times her husband has helped her with casting as well as the design of mounts and armatures.
Visually the glass sculptures communicate in scale, dimension, form, material, color, light, line and composition. One reason they are so visceral is that they relate to the human hand in scale. The dimensions of the work give them monumentality and an accessibility simultaneously. Because her sculpture is glass light is a key element to understanding and appreciating it. The sculptures themselves can be clear or colored, rough or polished and transparent or translucent. When completed Rose prefers her objects to be backlit although light can also come from below, above and from the sides. Each rake and angle of light adds further dimension, contour and texture to the work. Rose uses a great deal of copper in her work and she has a very high success rate with her casts. Copper expands at the same rate as glass when it is heated and so she is able to include it as a compositional element. Rose's metal armatures clamp the prized glass and elevate it to the status of precious object. Her contemporary sculptures allow us to consider our connections with the past and our place in the modern world.