Picture of the Week: Old and New Dreams by Mel Rosas

April 2, 2023

Mel Rosas, Old and New Dreams, 1987, oil on panel, 18 x 23 in.

Mel Rosas is a Detroit artist and educator. He earned his BFA from Drake University in Des Moines, IA, in 1972, and his MFA from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, in 1975. Rosas is an emeritus professor in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History at Wayne State University, where he taught from 1976-2021. He received a Board of Governor’s Faculty Recognition Award for outstanding professional achievement on June 2, 1994. To add, “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to WSU in the areas of creative activity, teaching, and service,” he was appointed as the Elaine L. Jacob Endowed Chair in Visual Arts from 2013-2021.

Rosas’s drawings and paintings have been displayed on a national and local scale. His artwork has been featured in exhibitions at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, the Lemberg Gallery, Birmingham, MI, Fendrick Gallery, Washington D.C., Butler Institute of Art, Youngstown, OH, and the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, NY. Additionally, his artwork was showcased in eight solo exhibitions at the Davidson Gallery in New York City, where his work was represented from 1991-2018. His work is currently on view in a retrospective exhibition entitled Foreign Intimacies at the Elaine L. Jacob Gallery at Wayne State University.

Rosas’s paintings and drawings are also part of many private and corporate collections, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR, Carnegie-Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh, PA, and the National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., among several others. He has received many grants throughout his career, including a Visual Art’s Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts, Washington, D.C., in 1993, an Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Grant, New York, NY, in 2003 and 2004, a Wayne State University Charles H Gerhenson Distinguished Faculty Award, from 2006-2008, and two Pollock Krasner Foundation Grants, New York, NY, in 2009 and 2018.

Rosas describes his work as “an ongoing investigation of Latin America and Latin American culture.” He is half-Panamanian and half-North American, resulting in a split identity within which he grapples with “two cultures and two languages.” For instance, he would speak English but dream in Spanish. His art is based on his travels to Latin America, which provided him the means to inform his dreams and explore subject matter “that is both foreign and familiar.” Rosas’s paintings are not meant to document “specific places or events, but rather landscapes of memory, exploring a line between dream and wake time and striving for a balance between the sublime and the melancholy.” To add, Rosas’s work is informed by his childhood experiences with his Latino father’s “personal stories, music, and language.” He is also inspired by Latin American literature, most notably the Magic Realism of Jorge Luis Borges and Realism of Robert Bolaño. Moreover, his paintings highlight dichotomies such as “the modern vs. ancient, the secular vs. religious and text vs. imagery.” 

Rosas’s 1987 oil painting Old and New Dreams demonstrates his exploration of the line between dream and wake time, as detailed in his artist statement. He composes a beautiful, naturalistic rendering of a countryside, filled with various lush trees and plants, fields, and houses. He incorporates varying hues of green, along with diverse shapes and textures to create distinctions between the trees and plants. To the right of the painting, he chooses to situate what appears to be a nude figure sunbathing on the grass while surrounded by trees. We do not know exactly where this scene takes place, nor who the figure is, but the title suggests that this is a culmination of Rosas’s dreams; these may be his childhood dreams of Latin America, paired with dreams that are informed by his trips to Latin America. To add, perhaps Rosas has also traveled to an Italian countryside in his dreams, as this work shares some resemblance with the landscapes one might see in the background of an Italian Renaissance painting. Moreover, his use of dreams as inspiration, accompanied by his naturalistic rendition of the landscape, in turn illustrates Rosas’s interest in magic realism, which juxtaposes fantasy and realism; Although the painting looks like a real place, we cannot pinpoint an exact location or identify who the figure is. Rather, the title encourages us to explore a space that has been built using the artist’s dreams, which in turn challenges traditional notions of time and space.    

Written by Angela Athnasios

Sources: https://melrosas.com/CV-1


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