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artistic process interviews

Nozomi Rose on artistic process during covid

New York artist Nozomi Rose is a current 2021 artist-in-resident at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC)’s Arts Center on Governors Island in NYC. There has been an Island full of snow, couple of birthday cakes, and new artist friends. During times of social distancing, the residency has been fun, and great for exchanging inspirations and ideas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: For artists, Governors Island is a mix of different kinds of approaches and possibilities in place. As you figured your way through the snow, how is it going?

Nozomi Rose: Yes, what I like about this residency is the true interdisciplinary nature. Our cohort is composed of artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, writers, actors, playwrights, choreographers, etc. If you visit my studio, you see the Jewish “climate change” comic artist Isaac Roller on the right and the black watercolor “house” painter Selwyn V. Garraway on the left. Isaac comes Mondays and Selwyn is there Fridays. The best part of our experience is the ferries. In Kobe, Japan, where I grew up, there were the mountains and the ocean, so this environment brings back my childhood memories, which often appear in my work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also part of a new annual lamp show in Brooklyn. How did you get involved in creating lamps from your paintings?

NR: The annual lamp show started in 2019 when Head Hi Gallery (and art book shop) opened in Fort Greene, Brooklyn/NYC, by the Navy Yard. The exhibition is about creative individuals experimenting with lighting and illuminations, so the owners inspired me to make my “vertical orange lamp” at the time, which visitors can now view at the gallery year-round. My lamp for 2021 is “social distancing lamp” that lights up when someone comes closer than 6 feet.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: According to the guidelines by CDC, to practice social or physical distancing, means staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people, “who are not from your household.” What is your approach to a ‘social distancing’ work?

NR: “Social distancing lamp (your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path)”, comes with motion activated light system. The work lights up if someone comes closer than 6 feet. For my paintings, I use both pigmented and fluorescent colors. They are combined with gold and silver paints. To achieve the maximum brightness, I started to paint on glass (with acrylic and oil paints) and attach LED light strips to my painting, but not sure, yet, if my direction is something like Mary Weatherford’s paintings. I am still experimenting with this last aspect.

Annual Lamp Show 2021

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have a very strong sense of color, in which the colors have a meaning attached to your personal history and memory. How about in relation to this work?

NR: For my social distancing lamp, I had a “yellow and violet” color scheme in mind at first. I was trying to paint the reflections on the water that I saw from the LMCC studios on Governors Island and the sunset from my ferry rides. 

I like the location of the Head Hi Gallery by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in part because my grandfather served as a pilot for the Japanese Air Force during the war, which was part of the Japanese Navy. He lived to see his grandchildren. There are certain moments from my direct experiences with nature on the ferries that I tried but could not capture in photographs (with my camera) and that I desired to preserve in painting. Those seascapes resonated with me because of my personal family history. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As you are working with a different medium than usual, being it paint on canvas, and now glass in which colors may appear differently, how do you mix the colors on this surface?

NR: Regarding my colors, I simultaneously started in both violet in oil and fluorescent yellow in acrylic on glass for this piece. Drying time for yellow was much faster than violet, so I had to plan accordingly. I mixed different shades of each fluorescent color and also their gradations of gold, silver, and pearl versions. Acrylic parts of my work could dry in a few minutes, but I had to wait for at least 24 hours for oil paint to dry. There were certain colors that I preferred to mix in acrylic and also others only in oil, so I layered both materials in some parts and not in others.

The processes of creating the lamp piece were more complex than my usual paintings and also new to me, from preparing a couple of different brushes for oil and acrylic at the same time to painting on glass to assembling and disassembling different LED lighting strips. They had to happen all at once due to the tight deadline, but I enjoyed the collaborative aspects (with Head Hi Gallery).

The color scheme of my actual lamp maybe darker than I first envisioned because I decided to make the top part more pink and orange in oil paint with certain abstract details. This was in part because I was planning to place the LED light on the back. You know, white paint catches light and the work was supposed to be back-lit. But, oh well. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you have a vision of using this material as a lighting piece, perhaps an artistic direction beforehand for the aesthetical changes?

NR: My idea of the social distancing lamp stemmed from a “painting that changes composition by itself when the viewer comes closer than 6 feet,” so the image had to be something that immediately grabs people’s attention and intrigues them enough to approach the work in order to observe the detail. And I had to achieve this in abstract imagery.

I feel like everything I planned went “wrong” at the end, but I am happy that it is on the wall now. I thank Head Hi owners, Alexandra and Mösco, for taking care of it!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As you are currently an artist-in-resident in Governors Island, can you describe your thought processes behind the methods of working. Painting is your primary way of creating art. Are you inspired by, or still interested in abstraction?

NR: It’s not a secret that I continue to be intrigued by Ab Ex NY (Abstract Expressionism) although I can have figurative elements in my work anytime. Can one person be a conceptual artist and an abstract painter at the same time? If so, that’s me. I aim at expanding colors by going somewhere beyond Modernism and Postmodernism. My practice is almost always informed by painting, but I also change medium often. When people ask, I tend to say my practice is concept-based, but materials guide me. I mentioned Mary Weatherford earlier, but is she a painter or a lamp maker? Why and why not? I think for me, concepts come out of materials.

I’m curious to see how Ab Ex influences on younger generations will unfold, maybe because I see Japanese/Asian cultures being reflected on American art there. For example, Emily Mason who passed away in 2019 was my former teacher who studied with Hans Hofmann. She sent me to my second Vermont Studio Center Residency in 2019. Emily was deeply influenced by Japanese cultures (in addition to Italian ones).

My new painting has light in it. Somehow, I’m seeing light as a “filmic” medium here, but my work rejects narrative. Perhaps, I’m attempting to introduce “duration” to my painting, without narrative. Have you ever watched essay films by Daniel Eisenberg? One of his films was about his indirect experiences with the Holocaust that was passed onto him through his parents’ stories. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I interviewed you in 2012 for your solo show at the Consulate General of Japan located in midtown Manhattan. Time flies, so do you remember your works back then?

NR: I think my color scheme was much darker then – because I was using Nihonga pigments [Japanese folk painting material]. I think I successfully reclaimed Christian painting practice with oil painting materials (just kidding!).

I recently started to read about artistic development of children and children’s abstract art. Children’s art and adult art are not the same; they visualize rapid brain developments in children. There are neurologically-relevant reasons why small children should take art lessons. Two books on this topic I recommend are: Eric R. Kandel’s “In Search of Memory” and Viktor Lowenfeld’s “Creative and Mental Growth.”

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We are gradually starting to think practices after the pandemic, what ever they may appear to be like, in terms of experiences and lifestyles. I don’t know, how much you like to dig into your COVID-quarantine starting last year. But is there something that relates to your routine, work, making your art, and artistic process?

NR: ATP (All Things Project), had daily Zoom meetings during NYC’s mandatory quarantine, so I attended that every day in the evening. One time, our pastor got sick and had to isolate himself. That was scary for me/us because I imagined that maybe we would just watch each other get sick, but fortunately, he survived and the rest of us did not get sick.

I have personal interests in art related to the 80’s AIDS crisis. My Covid experience brought me to a new understanding of Gregg Bordowitz’s “Fast Trip, Long Drop” (1993), for example. There is a clip from “HIV Support Group Meeting July 1993” in this film where Gregg says, “[my] biggest fear is that we are just going to…our future is going to be about watching each other getting sick.”

I watched this film so many times in the past until I memorized part of his script, but I never really thought I got it. Now I think I can sort of feel how that might have been. “David” in the same clip also says, “it’s weird to live with this constant sense of mortality.” I think I can nod now. Gregg Bordowitz has a solo show coming up at MoMA PS1 in May 2021. I found it ironic that the epidemic artist’s show had to be postponed due to the pandemic. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that also social media platforms expanded in the process. People not only took it to the zoom. Instagram has appeared as a new local and global lifestyle. What do you think about that?

NR: Head Hi offered “Head Hi Live” on instagram every Sunday during/after the lockdown in NYC, so I tuned in with friends from other countries. I liked Mösco’s sound choices, and he sometimes DJ’ed at the Lot Radio in Greenpoint. But the weekly event also had lots of participants from the art world such as Printed Matter (note: Head Hi hosted Printed Matter NY Art Book Fair’s “after party” before the lockdown). It was fun virtually dancing with them when there was no other social life. Head Hi seems to be a community leader during Covid. I think for lots of young people living in Brooklyn, it was psychologically very challenging to wear a mask at first, but one day Mösco had his mask on when cleaning Head Hi’s storefront and that was it. People started to wear a mask and gloves after that day in the neighborhood. Something like that.

In 2018, I mysteriously decided to move my life mostly indoors (well before the lockdown), so there was no crazy, sudden transition I had to make overnight this time. During Covid, I took online courses, mostly MOOCs, made art, watched movies, and read books.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your mother been coping during this time?

NR: I learned about Hugh Laurie’s acting in the American medical drama “House, M.D.” TV series that my mother likes, and British comedy such as “Jeeves and Wooster” series. My mother is an actress and I try to keep up with those classic movies so that I can converse with her, but I am very behind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Let’s peek into a possible future with the lamps. Do you have any interest in creating them more, having a brand Nozomi?

NR: The last lamp show was the first time when I consciously made a lamp, so I asked Head Hi how long they plan to offer lamp shows. They say as long as they can. I guess I will follow the flow. One of the Head Hi owners, Alexandra, told me that her own ambitious, “failed” lamp making three years ago inspired Head Hi to host the first lamp show; she desired to see how people make lamps. They call it “lamping.”

It’s a community’s annual lamping practice that you witness when you come to see the lamp show at Head Hi Gallery. My show ends on March 3rd and Part 2 with new artists starts on Friday, March 5th.


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Nozomi Rose grew up in Kobe and Hawaii, went to school in Paris, Rome, and New York City, and studied Fine Arts at the City University of New York (CUNY) where she was awarded an honor residency at Barnard College/Columbia University as an ICP Scholar. Later, she graduated from Cornell University with a BFA degree in Painting. Her MFA degree in Studio came from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the top museum schools in the country and the world.

As a visual artist, she has exhibited her work at Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Sullivan Center at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bridge Art Fair New York, LVL3 in Chicago, the Evanston Art Center in Evanston, All Things Project in Greenwich Village, New Century Artist and Kravets|Wehby in Chelsea/NYC and CANADA gallery in LES/NYC, among others.

Artist website: 
https://nozomirose.com/