A flurry of activity this winter for Deborah Rosenthal, including a term as a visiting artist and several notable, critically acclaimed exhibits, kept the professor of Fine Arts moving.
Sean Ramsden

Deborah M. Rosenthal

Deborah M. Rosenthal, professor of Fine Arts, recently completed a stint as a Visiting Artist at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., where she also had several of her paintings shown in a solo exhibition. Also this winter, Rosenthal was featured in a four-artist exhibit at The Painting Center in the Chelsea district of New York City.

At Knox, which earned note as the setting for the fifth senatorial debate between challenger Abraham Lincoln and incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas in 1858, Rosenthal gave a public talk to the entire campus community, an audience that included many students and faculty outside the fine arts department. She also lectured before classes and offered critiques to junior and senior students. Rosenthal says such critiques – representing a long tradition in art instruction – are considered vital to developing artists.

“I always do group critiques, so everybody can see the issues involved with everybody’s art,” she explained. “They’re beneficial because you’re often telling them something they’ve not heard before, and sometimes reinforcing things they’ve already heard. It’s helpful in either case.”

In February, Rosenthal was also one of four artists whose work was showcased in an exhibit titled Nature is the Teacher at The Painting Center, which recently relocated from SoHo to Chelsea. Of showing with Simon Carr, Stanley Lewis and Thaddeus Radell, Rosenthal says that while each artist’s work may at first glance appear rather disparate, they actually share a common tradition.

“We are all modernists who come from similar directions, and we were grouped well together,” she explained of the exhibit. Rosenthal says it is common today for painters to reject the past, but she and her peers in Nature is the Teacher, “don’t feel like the past is done.

“We all feel like the past is on ongoing activity, a tradition we are still adding to,” she continued. “These paintings are a modern response to the world.”

To illustrate her example, Rosenthal explains that a crowded subway scene rendered by an artist such as Carr can be seen as a modern extension of an ancient dialogue between art and the world. “It’s related to a group scene from the 17th century,” she said, adding that her own interpretations of such time-honored dynamics are manifested in a more abstract way.

“I’m interested in figures and landscapes that aren’t so much a moment captured in time, but that come from a desire to think about order in the universe,” Rosenthal explained. “My paintings come from a state of mind that is saturated with images from landscapes, and they reflect my internal thoughts. They are images that take us outside of this time and place.

Nature is the Teacher earned critical acclaim noting its importance in artcritical.com, the premier online arts publication. Calling the exhibit “indispensible,” noted New York critic John Goodrich wrote that while the four artists are “thoroughly different spirits … their styles vary tremendously, and their diverse pursuits of narrative, symbolism, or process make for an exceptionally handsome installation.”

Of Rosenthal’s work in particular (Nature is the Teacher included seven of her paintings), Goodrich noted that, “although the most abstracted work here, Rosenthal’s compositions of organic, geometric forms and calligraphic marks abound with intimations of lyrical events. Peaked shapes, lofting across the upper portions of ‘Uphill and Down’ (2011), might be distant mountains or sheltering tents. Exact specifications are unclear, and less crucial, than the sense of a poetic journey and its attendant tribulations.”

Her inclusion in Nature is the Teacher has hardly been the extent of Rosenthal’s recent showings, however. This winter, her work was shown at the Harnett Biennial at the Harnett Museum, part of the University of Richmond Museums of Art, in Virginia, a national juried exhibition. She also had a painting included in Seduced by the Sacred, a show at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, Conn.; and completed a painting for The Dura Europos Project, and exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art. Rosenthal also had a painting chosen for It’s All Good: Apocalypse Now, an enormous annual exhibition with more than 300 New York artists, at Sideshow, one of the major galleries in the trendy Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Rosenthal was featured along with her husband, renowned art critic Jed Perl of The New Republic, in the April 2009 edition of Yale Review. The journal – the nation’s oldest literary quarterly – included 10 pages of their collaborative book project entitled About Borromini, inspired by the Baroque architect Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). The feature includes five of Rosenthal’s prints, along with five accompanying texts by Perl.

“This project, which has been great fun, was supported by Rider in a number of ways,” said Rosenthal of the collaboration. “I went to the American Academy during a sabbatical leave, and the project has been funded twice by Summer Research Fellowships. I am very grateful to Rider for all this.”