When you walk into Rose Mosner’s Van Ness East condominium during her Open Art Studio event this weekend (Saturday, March 15 & Sunday, March 16, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Van Ness East Building, Apt. 302), expect a festival of color and movement every way you turn.
After the native New Yorker and seven-year Washingtonian warmly greets you herself, your next greeting will come from the first painting you’ll see, hung directly across from the door. The acrylic on canvas, “The Red and the Black,” is a tone-setting piece for the rest of the exhibition, with its abstract interlocking shapes in red, black, powder blue, and off-white.
The shapes spring and somersault around the canvas with such energy that it would be hard to pinpoint which colors are background and which are foreground. The shapes are purely abstract, but could easily tease the viewer into seeing the forms of animal, vegetable, and mineral. Or human.
Beyond the painting in the entrance hall, turn left or right and color and wild expressive movement will wash over you. Mosner is a prolific artist with a lifetime of paintings, collages and wall sculptures to her credit, and about a decade of work to share at this weekend’s Open Studio, so come to the exhibition planning to stay a while. You will, no matter what. Probably that’s because, everywhere you turn in Mosner’s home, a completely unique piece of art will beckon you closer. Large paintings of free-flowing forms in vivid color share the wall with hanging sculptures, and with pen-and-ink drawings of abstract but recognizable figures Mosner affectionately calls, “weirdies.”
“Can I paint Realism? Yes. Do I want to? No,” says Mosner, who earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in art at Queens College in New York. “I did one painting of a man’s face and it’s very realistic, so when people ask if I do abstract painting because I can’t do realism, I point to that painting.”
Mosner has had the good fortune to be able to focus on art all her life. She taught art at Marie Curie Junior High School 158 in Queens, New York. She now teaches a class on collage art at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at American University and divides her time between her apartment in New York City and her condominium in Van Ness East.
Of her time as an art teacher in Queens, Mosner says, “I taught students about shape, color and movement. Now I teach the [OLLI] students about making a collage “painting” using the same principles. It’s fun because it’s using your hands differently.”
In her own early art classes, as a high school, then college and Master’s student, Mosner worked in oil paints as well as in sculpture and other media, but now finds the most versatility and excitement in acrylic paint.
“Acrylic is washable and wonderful!” she says. “I work quickly when I’m painting and acrylic dries fast.”
She also creates collages with magazine photos, fabric, beads, wood pieces, unused CDs and many other materials, including wood knots found on the ground on walks and unspooled cassette recording tape, picked up off the factory floor of a factory in Japan. Her love of found-object collage developed because of the solution she found to the prohibitively-small budget allotted to her school for art supplies. Having so little money for paint and canvases pushed her out into the community and to local businesses for leftover fabric, wallpaper, yarn and wood, which would otherwise be wasted.
Now collages line the walls and rest on shelves and other furniture, taking over the normal operation of Mosner’s home in preparation for the Open Art Studio show. One collage is the lovely “Cherubs,” with Renaissance-era portraits of children. The fabric background is studded with metallic ornaments reminiscent of flourishes in architectural hardware, such as the Old World iron grillwork on gates or decorative doorknobs or drawer pulls.
On the wall next to these collages is the largest cluster of wooden wall sculptures, cut on a band saw that sits in a corner of the studio. Many elements are bare, unpainted pieces cut into undulating shapes that give your eye plenty of twists and turns to travel.
“I go to the lumber yard and buy things,” Mosner says. “Or I’ll be on a walk and I’ll pick up something off the ground.” She enjoys strolling in Forest Hills and the surroundings, which she describes as “very pretty and good for walking.” For an artist who sees possibilities in every scrap of material, a walk in Forest Hills means some of the elements that will appear in her collages come from right in the neighborhood.
Many of Mosner’s supplies came from friends or from serendipitous situations. A cardboard cutout of a twin-tailed mermaid came most likely from a product display in a store, but a friend claimed it for Mosner, telling her: “You’re the only person I know who can do something with this.”
Unspooled cassette tape, which appears again and again, came from the factory floor of TDK, a recording equipment manufacturer in Japan. Years ago, TDK and the Asia Society organized a contest for teacher-student teams. The winners got an expenses paid trip to Japan and a chance to make their designs rieal. Mosner and her star student, who was 14 years old at the time, proposed one of five winning projects. They traveled around Japan drawing and painting what they saw together. A film crew followed them, capturing scenes of the trip, and when they visited the TDK factory, Mosner picked up the miles of cassette tape material that still appears in her artwork, many years later.
The student who accompanied Mosner on the journey and provided half of the team art, Delia, is now a graphic designer and artist and designed Mosner’s business cards and art website, RoseMosner.com. Delia and Mosner got back in touch after many years when Delia was asked about the person who influenced her most in her life. When she realized her art teacher Rose Mosner was her biggest influence, she knew she had to get back in contact.
Mosner is still touched by this gesture, saying, “You don’t realize how you’ll influence people.” She says of her teaching career: “When you’re teaching, you get something back. When you’re an artist, though, you don’t get anything back from people unless your art is seen and displayed. It’s like the tree falling in the forest.” Mosner is grateful to have had both in her life, saying she feels so lucky to have the art gift, as well as to have great students, like Delia and like her current students in the OLLI collage class, whom she describes as “vibrant, intelligent and ready to live.”
Among the many influences Mosner identifies in her own life and art, foremost is her brother, who was also an artist. He was the type of person, Rose says, who “noticed the rainbows in the gasoline floating in the storm drains after a rain. He worked all day and night [on his art], like a Mozart. He had no choice but to do art because it was just coming out of him.”
Her brother shared her keen desire to be original. Mosner recalls how a comparison of his work to Pablo Picasso’s angered her brother. And she tells the story of how, when she overheard someone saying a particular painting looked like a Matisse painting, she put the painting away forever, even though Henri Matisse is at the top of her list of favorite artists.
She never wants to imitate. There are elements of Matisse here and there, and Mosner also loves and admires Picasso, Rembrandt, David, Van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, and calls herself a child of these artists, but there is no attempt to integrate their style or motifs in her work. There is also no metaphoric message, just a mood and a particular energy to each work.
The only work in Mosner’s exhibition that might entice the viewer to seek a submerged message is the atmospheric painting “Red Tears,” showing a single yellow and green tree drooping against a gray background, with red liquid dripping from the branch ends. Is it blood? Is there a message here?
“No, it’s not blood, it’s tears,” Mosner says, laughing. “If you can have a yellow tree, why can’t you have red tears?” She has plans for the tree, though, and is envisioning a whole landscape filled with undulating tree figures. Right now, all she has are a few sketches on squares of paper, but the image is clearly growing and filling out in her mind already. She generally moves from the barest sketches and ideas directly to canvas, not feeling the need for extensive planning. “When I start a painting, when I put a canvas on the easel, anything can happen,” she says.
Mosner’s work has been displayed in more than a dozen group and juried art shows in Washington, New York, Massachusetts and Kansas. Most recently, Mosner participated in a group show at the Corcoran Gallery last September and another the Cahoon Museum of American Art in Cotuit, Massachusetts in December. She has also had solo shows at the Cahoon Museum, in 2011, and at the Iona Gallery in Washington, DC, part of the National Center for Creative Aging.
Also, Mosner participated in a art archiving project last year. Designed by the Research Center for Arts and Culture, an affiliate of the National Center for Creative Aging, it’s called Art Cart. A team of artists, educators, and graduate fellows catalog a living artist’s work. The goal is to preserve as much art as possible, with the idea it will have artistic, cultural and historical value in the future. Through the project, largely unknown artists can become a part of art history, too.
Swing by Rose Mosner’s Open Art Studio exhibition this Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and pick up a piece of modern history. Stay for a while; chances are good the exhibition will feel too short anyway.