Adekunle Adewunmi, Contributing Editor
Interview: Featured Artist
Fine artist Alejandro Rosemberg, a realist painter in the style of the Italian masters, was born in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1981. After preparatory school, he attended the National University of Cordoba, where he obtained a degree in Fine Arts. At that time, Rosemberg aligned himself with master Claudio Bogino and dedicated himself to the study of the classical method of painting based on the tradition of the great Italian masters. He continued his education on color under Graydon Parrish at the Grand Central Academy of New York. Rosemberg’s works are presently being exhibited in the United States and Canada, respectively represented by Principle Gallery in Virginia and White Rock Gallery in Vancouver. Passionate about teaching the academic techniques he uses, Rosemberg invests much time in and dedication to his drawing and painting classes and workshops, which he conducts in Brazil, the United States, and Argentina.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: By way of introduction, tell us a little about yourself, Alejandro. Have you always known you would be an artist?
Rosemberg: Even though there are a lot of artists in my family, I couldn’t say I always knew I wanted to be an artist.
When I was younger I had never thought about what I would like to do when I finished school, so when the time came to make that decision, I was quite confused. I loved drawing and have had uncles, grandmothers and even a great grandfather who have been dedicated to the arts, but I had always loved numbers and my dad was an engineer. So, not being able to decide, I started both careers at the same time.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: That sounds like quite a challenge.
Rosemberg: My first year at university was pretty intense, and even though I dropped engineering after the first year, what I learned there was really valuable afterwards. It helped me to structure my art career, which was very chaotic at the art school where I was attending classes. Due to this, I wouldn’t say that I lost time by taking engineering classes, but rather found it very helpful for everything that came afterwards.
Another fun fact is that I started art school thinking I would be a sculptor. My father’s mom was a great artist, and even though she enjoyed lots of techniques, her main focus was ceramics. I would spend lots of afternoons learning ceramics from her, so I guess she was a great influence in my early life. I had never painted until my first year at University, so I didn’t even know what holding a brush was like until I was 18 years old.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: We can see that you know quite well what it’s like now. What was the early phase of your training like?
Rosemberg: I got my degree in fine arts at the National University of Cordoba, my hometown. It was a five-year career and as most of the contemporary art schools in the world, the training at atelier classes wasn’t very good so I suffered a lot and wasted some precious time there. I did, however, have some good teachers too, which I enjoyed and with whom I learned a great deal from. I remember some great sculpture, etching and drawing classes that I loved. I also enjoyed the art history and art philosophy classes, which I believe were really important to develop as an artist. Nowadays, I think it’s been difficult for art schools to develop a good balance between good atelier training and theoretical classes.
Adewumi for O:JA&L: That sounds like a pretty ordinary set of background experiences at university. What happened to shape and nurture your considerable talent?
Rosemberg: Even though painting classes weren’t great at my art school, I was lucky enough to find a master that defined my career as a painter. His name was Claudio Bogino and even though he was also from Cordoba, he had been living for the past twenty years in Rome and had just came back to Argentina when I met him during my first year at University. He left the country in his early 20s, looking for an art master, and he went to study with Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni, one of the last great Italian masters. That was a happy coincidence for me, and we have become good friends since then.
Five years ago, I spent some time in NY and went to the Grand Central Academy to take a couple of classes. I consider that school to be one of the best these days, and I was intrigued to find out how they worked and taught. The experience was great, but what really made an impact on me was not the painting classes, but the Munsell Color Theory Workshop I took with Graydon Parrish. Even though it was only a two-week workshop, I consider that it changed my way of thinking about color and painting, so I am very grateful for that experience. Since learning this color theory, I have utilized it in my own work as well as taught multiple workshops at my studio and around the country. I have found this theory to be very useful to me, and I believed that every artist and art student should learn it in hopes that they can benefit from it the way that I have.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: Can you describe for us the process by which you determined to become professionally independent, to seek critical acceptance and commercial success on your own ?
Rosemberg: By the age of 26, I had finished art school and was working full time, dedicated to the arts, painting for an art gallery from Miami and teaching at my master’s studio as his assistant. Although it was going well, Cordoba is a small town and the studio wasn’t my own. I felt I had to make a change in order to grow, so I moved to Buenos Aires, a huge city with a lot of cultural movement. I opened my atelier here, started teaching and painted non-stop for years. Even though I had been painting for art galleries since I was 21, I would say this was the beginning of my professional career. The first years were a little bit difficult and lonely, but I was able to start a more introspective process and focus on my work. After a couple of years, my atelier was doing really well and I started working with Principle Gallery, a great art gallery from Virginia which is the main gallery I work with to this day.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What advice about building reputation and status as an artist would you give to new artists just beginning their careers?
Rosemberg: In my opinion, art contests are the fastest way of showing your work to the world and gaining recognition. Once I felt ready, I started participating in both national and international painting contests and my goal since then has been to participate in at least one or two every year. I especially try to participate in international contests because, unfortunately, in my country realism is not only not appreciated, but also looked down upon. Since then, I have won several awards including first place at the ARC Salon Competition this year, which is the largest and most prestigious competition in the western world for realist artists.
Another important recognition for an artist is to have their work included in a museum collection. This year I have had the honor of having my paintings acquired by two different museums. The first one is the Argentinian National Museum of Fine Arts (MNBA), which holds a special importance to me because it is recognition in my own country. The second and most important museum that acquired my work is the MEAM, a Spanish museum dedicated to realism that has become a reference in the contemporary figurative art world.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: By any estimation, your own reputation and status as an artist are growing. You are now in a position to influence other artists. What effect would you like to have on the trajectories of those careers?
Rosemberg: The strongest influence I have had in my artistic career was my master. Not only regarding style and technique, but also regarding the attitude towards painting. He taught me how to think strictly about my artwork without caring about other’s opinions, art tendencies or the market. I really think that this kind of freedom is essential to any artist who wants to develop their career.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: You have been fortunate in your professional life as concerns your influences and training. Family is often an important influence as well. You said earlier that your father was an engineer and you in university tried to pursue both your art and an engineering course of study. What was the effect on them when art emerged as your career choice?
Rosemberg: I would like to say that my parent’s calm acceptance of my decision to study art was a great influential event in my life. They always said they would support me in my decisions and only advised me to do what I wanted and in the best way possible.
The fact that there have always been artists in the family and that going to openings and exhibitions in museums and art galleries was a common thing also had a great impact on me. For example, my uncle, who is a painter as well, would work in Cordoba with an art gallery dedicated to figurative art. There was a group of realist painters represented by this gallery whom I really admired and I enjoyed watching their work so much… I can still remember the feeling of being at the gallery amazed by their realism. I couldn’t understand how someone could create such a thing; it had seemed like magic to me.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What other experiences helped shape your world view and confirmed you in a career in arts?
Rosemberg: Travelling was an activity which really opened my mind. The first trip that had a strong impact on me regarding the art world was to New York City when I was 17, on a high school exchange program. During that trip we visited important museums including the MET, art exhibitions (I can remember one by Duane Hanson, a hyper realistic sculptor) and Broadway (where we watched The Phantom of the Opera). All these things were new and amazing experiences to me.
Another personal experience of great influence I have had was the atelier I opened in Brazil. It ran for six years until 2017. During this period, I had a routine of staying five months in Argentina and one in Brasilia, where I would teach intensive painting workshops to people related to the diplomatic world, both from embassies and international organizations such as United Nations. Spending so much time in another country with people from all around the world was an intense cultural experience from which I definitely learned a lot and has changed me as a human being.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What is your professional schedule like today?
Rosemberg: My week is divided into two parts, due to the fact that I paint as well as teach on a weekly basis. I run an atelier with 45 students, which is on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so those two days I dedicate completely to that activity. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays I paint, and I usually try to dedicate an average of 8 hours of work a day. On weekends I try to rest, but even though I don’t usually paint, there’s always computer work to be done. Emails, interviews, shooting and editing photos, etc… Every now and then I also teach painting and color theory workshops both in Argentina and outside the country. That evidently means that I have to travel, which is something that I enjoy immensely (I used to have the atelier in Brazil I mentioned before and now I am starting an experience in the US).
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What other things affect your art and its production? What themes in our hectic milieu do you respond to through your work?
Rosemberg: It’s really crazy how images affect us nowadays, since technology burst in our lives in such a dramatic way. We are constantly exposed to them 24/7 in multiple platforms where all kind of languages live together in complete chaos, creating, somehow, a new eclectic and contemporary language where everything is valid. That’s why I find it really difficult to identify specific movements or artists who I can identify as an influence. My interest varies from day to day and we have such an easy access to information that I think it’s this eclecticism itself that ends up working as the greater influence.
One thing I find interesting these days is trying to identify different ways in which contemporary painters approach the realistic language. It’s interesting to understand how these new approaches to a classical language such as realism contribute to our work in order to create something that has the quality of the Old Masters, but which belongs to our time.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What ideas or features of life inspire you consistently?
Rosemberg: Sources of inspiration may vary a lot for me. To start with, I think it’s really difficult to understand how inspiration and creative process works. So, what I usually try to do is to create a rich environment for these things to happen. I accomplish this by nourishing myself from many different sources such as reading, watching movies, social media, visiting museums or talking to inspiring people, only to give some examples. I think it’s important to constantly enrich myself through these interactions, as it’s important to have some moments of silence and a good work routine. Inspiration will come then, eventually and at its own time.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: Are you exclusively a painter with oils?
Rosemberg: I usually draw with oil based sanguine pencils and paint with oil.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: What is the message of your art? What should a viewer understand when encountering one of your images?
Rosemberg: There are a couple of concepts that I constantly work with on my paintings, these being beauty in an ample sense, and craft as its support values that have been devalued throughout the last century, and yet, so necessary to the development of human beings and art.
I say beauty in an ample way because it can be not only a portrait of a beautiful model, but also the challenge of finding beauty in a common thing such as a plastic bag, as I do in my still life paintings. Carton, plastic and disposable objects are representative of urban and contemporary life, and that’s why they are the protagonists of this series of paintings. Painting these objects the way I do implies rethinking still life, one of the greatest genres of classical painting, from a contemporary point of view. It also challenges the viewer to find beauty in everyday life, something that the artist finds interesting, because it implies seeing the objects that surround us from a new point of view, aestheticizing our daily life.
Lately, other themes have come up in my works and they are Vanitas and Trompe L’oeil, which are classic themes and I find them very interesting to develop together. My last year of work has been around these ideas.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: In speaking of viewers, whom do you see as the ideal audience for your art?
Rosemberg: I usually don’t think about my public at the moment of creating a new work to avoid any kind of speculation that can influence the final image and actually, my works vary a lot from series to series. This freedom has a high price but I think it’s really important for an artist to feel free, so it’s only after I have finished my work that I try to think about which audience would be more suitable for it and then, think whether I should take it to a gallery (which gallery), to a private collector, a contest (which contest), etc… I put a lot of energy into each piece I do, so I like to think that once I have finished a painting, it has to “work” for me. That might be by getting into a contest, winning a price, getting to a museum collection, etc. And I’ll think about this only once the work is done.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: In the largest sense, what is of your judgement concerning the state of the arts today? What in your judgement is the role of the artist and of art in contemporary cultural life?
Rosemberg: I think there is a huge crisis in the role that art and artists play in contemporary cultural life. Most of the art produced and displayed nowadays at galleries, fairs, and museums has become elitist: with encrypted and inaccessible languages, which has destroyed the aesthetic experience and rejected the non-specialized public who can no longer connect to the artwork in a sensitive way.
Nevertheless, art is necessary in any healthy society, and people haven’t yet lost their interest in consuming art. The role of contemporary artists should be to provide them again with that sensitive and enriching experience: a more inclusive, constructive and positive role. Art helps to sublimate social unrest and discomfort. Art invites us to feel and creates moments of contemplation, introspection and reflection. Artists, with their special sensitivity, help to develop that part of culture associated with feelings and emotions, and culture makes us more humans.
Adewunmi for O:JA&L: Where and how can our audience keep in touch with you and your art?
A Rosemberg Primer
“Vanitas II – Samsara Series”
*This work got the First Place in the 2018 ARC competition
This painting is based on two still-life subgenres: trompe-l’oeil (i.e. tricks the eye) and vanitas.
Vanitas paintings refer to the futility and transience of worldly pleasures in the face of the daunting concept of death. Objects represented in these works generate a symbolic contrast between such aspects; on the one hand the earthly world, accumulation and pleasure (such as knowledge, power, wealth, beauty, etc.) and on the other, fragility, transience and death.
In the work I am presenting, these two worlds are clearly dissociated: the representation of an antique Sorolla’s seascape frame, painted in obsessive detail, surrounds the skeleton of a fish.
While the skeleton represents death, the fish in the occidental culture is also a metaphor of a deep truth (that can be revealed if exposed) and for Christ (expectations of life after death).
Trompe-l’oeil, which confuses us as to what is real or just an illusion and introduces us to the ideas of deception, doubt or mystery, reinforces the concept of vanitas. As Pedro Calderón de la Barca wrote:
“What is this life? A frenzy, an illusion,
A shadow, a delirium, a fiction.
The greatest good’s but little, and this life
Is but a dream, and dreams are only dreams.”
“A dialogue between contemporary and classical art”
*This work got the First Place in the “The Artist’s Magazine” All-Media Online Competition
Art reflects the context in which it is produced. Carton, plastic and disposable objects are representative of urban and contemporary life and that’s why they are the protagonists of this series of paintings. Painting these objects the way he does implies rethinking still life, one of the greatest genders of classical painting, from a contemporary point of view. It also challenges the viewer to find beauty in everyday life, something that the artist finds interesting, because it implies seeing the objects that surround us from a new point of view, aestheticizing our daily life.
Portrait of Victoria
*This portrait was recently acquired by the MEAM Museum
Portrait of Victoria (detail)
Portraits of my father
Spring Series – Painting N°1
Spring Series – Painting N°1 (Detail)
About the interviewer:
The live versions of interviews are conducted on behalf of O:JA&L by O:JA&L Contributing Editor for Interviews Adekunle Adewunmi.
Adekunle Adewunmi earned a Higher National Diploma (HND) with a concentration in Mass Communication from Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY) in Abeokuta, Nigeria. He is a blogger at Pulse NG, an award-winning, youth-focused online media outlet. While at MAPOLY, Adekunle Adewunmi was the Sub Editor for MAPECHO (newspaper) and Omega Magazine, yearly publications of the school’s Mass Communication Department. Immediately after his graduation, he began work as a correspondent with Church Times, a specialized newspaper company. During Adekunle’s one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme at Kogi State Broadcasting Corporation, he worked as a Corps On-Air Personality (OAP) while submitting his poems and articles to the State’s newspaper for publication. He was recognized in 2018 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo as an Outstanding State Youth Ambassador for his efforts towards Curbing Youth Irregular Migration in Nigeria. Adekunle is also a poet. He has been published on Pulse NG, YNaija, The Novita, Akewiartshouse, and many other platforms. Adewunmi’s new book Arise Nigeria was recently released through OKADA Books.