Rossella BLUE 'A Staircase to Heaven'
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
I exhibited at St. Agnes Library on the Upper West Side of Manhattan during September 2019 with a show entitled A Staircase to Heaven. Here is the transcript of the guided tour I gave throughout the show.
Before I guide you through my show, let me tell you a little about St. Agnes Library. In 1893 St. Agnes Chapel on West 91st Street started a parish library, among their books was a collection for the blind. In 1906, Andrew Carnegie donated money to the city for the specific purpose of building libraries throughout the five boroughs. It was then that the St. Agnes Collection was transferred to this location on Amsterdam Avenue. Since 2015 I have exhibited my work in eight different libraries in Manhattan. Each space has been different from the next, each show has been different from the last. I don’t just take a group of paintings and hang them up anywhere. The space available to me has determined the concept of the show and which paintings to hang. In this show at St. Agnes Library, I had the challenge of hanging art around a staircase. I have always been captivated by staircases. They not only take you higher but they also raise you higher and ultimately that’s how I see art. Art should elevate us to new vistas.
If you are not familiar with my art, let me tell you that the figures in my paintings are all masked and in costume. Sometimes the faces are painted but one could argue that is another form of masking. The inspiration for my figures is the Venice Carnival.
This painting hanging by the entrance is entitled The Solar System. It is part of a series of paintings I did to represent the cosmos. Majestic figures that from their heights or depths look at us humans, often not pleased with the way we are treating their world.
Until recently if you had asked me what a triptych was, I would have responded that it was a work consisting of three panels popular in Medieval times and reflective of religious art. But the artist Francis Bacon has shown us that the triptych is still a valid way to express our modern thoughts. I did my first triptych for my last show at Countee Cullen Library. Painting a subject in three panels is definitely a different experience than doing the same subject in one canvas. But why stop with a triptych? So I did a pentaptych, a work consisting of 5 panels, for this space.
I wanted to do a pentaptych that I could exhibit in this space going up a staircase but also to be able to exhibit it horizontally in a future show. In order for a triptych or pentaptych to work, each panel has to connect to the next one and usually the background tends to be a connecting link. Since there was no room to connect them by background, I designed these lines or bars going through the figures. If you read them as bars, are the figures in jail or are we the ones in jail? Notice also that in many cases the figures and bars/lines are intertwined. I am not sure that a staircase is the best way to view art. So if people do not stop to look at the paintings, I wanted the figures to look at the people. The title of this pentaptych is The Gaze.
This painting (left) entitled Heaven Only Knows is the painting I chose for advertising this show. I have always been interested in portraying emotions but as a visitor to the show pointed out sometimes emotions are not clearly read. They could represent opposite emotions.
These other painting were done earlier, in a period of about a year, where the colors I used were very dark. A theme I am interested in is how to bring light out of darkness; how to come out of the shadows that surround us. Notice half the face is in darkness; half is lit. The titles also reflect this theme: An Angel at Dawn, In a Blue Moon, Moonlight Shadows and In the Shadows with Dreams.
This last painting in the show, Lost Icon, also done in the same period as the previous four paintings is part of three paintings I did on the subject of icons. I was inspired by Byzantine icons. In today’s world we are bombarded by a constant stream of images. We should take stock of what matters and not abandon what came before us. As an artist I value the connection I have to artists who came before me.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who took the guided tour and made this exhibit so special. Thank you for all your comments. You enriched me and I hope my art enriched you.