When people come into the Manzanita Arts Emporium gallery in downtown Angels Camp, the wall of geometric wall sculptures by artist Gary Rose catches the eye.
“What is it?” they usually ask.
“It looks like calligraphy,” remarked one visitor, stepping back to view the large pieces. “It spells out a word.”
Or maybe not. One image is the letter D; another is titled, “The Big E,” so viewers aren’t far off. Another work, titled “The Monk,” with what appears to be part of a red cross embedded inside an iconic hood, carries the strength of powerful symbolism and it also appears to be a letter of sorts. “Keyhole Madonna” presents a portal that may appear to be a tunnel opening for an oncoming train, and then a vague halo shape that may or may not represent a symbolic figure appears, but only the name suggests a deeper connection.
Rose doesn’t like to name his works; he prefers the use of a series of numbers to indicate the dates of completion, but the whimsical titles assist in identifying the pieces.
Although Rose’s large 4-by-5-foot sculptures aren’t figurative, as in representing recognizable shapes and images that people are familiar with, viewers fashion biomorphic images from their imaginations based on the abstract forms – a natural process. They may see a resting frog, a Grecian helmet, an animalistic shape leaping over a pedestal or a figure of a man stepping into the air, or something else entirely different, depending on their mood or experiences that day.
Rose says he likes the idea that people ignite their own artistic imaginations when they see his artworks.
The sculptural pieces represent an art genre called hard-edge painting – a style of art originated in California in the late 1950s and ’60s that uses an economy of lines and color, abrupt transitions between color fields, smooth surfaces and a nonrepresentational approach to forms.
Rose said people refer to his works as being minimalist, another genre of abstract art, but explains that his works offer more variations instead of the limitations and sparseness that is often found in minimalist paintings.
Influenced by Bauhaus artists and abstract artists such as Josef Albers, Hans Hoffman, Arthur Dove, Moholy-Nagy, Vasily Kandinski, Piet Mondrian, Walter Gropius, the architect Frank Stella, as well as myriad forms of Japanese art, Rose also admires the American precisionists like Charles Sheeler and Charles Demuth, and movements such as op art and minimal art, as well as sculptors such as Henry Moore and David Smith. He adds that these influences do not formulate his design style, which developed in the late 1960s and early ’70s, as he incorporates personal symbols into his pieces.
Rose’s artistic vision encompasses personal icons, he says, and his design sense is flavored by the natural world that he embraces – the dynamics of cattle grazing, mountain curves, sharp tree lines up against rock formations, anomalies in wood, water movement and a sense of space and view.
“I take inspiration from what I see around me: the deep green hills in the spring, golden grasses waving in the summer, the grays and blues of river boulders, the deep blues of alpine lakes.”
He says that his paintings are meant to be “positive and uplifting and reflect the American tradition of organic, mechanical or architectural majesty.”
His method is quite involved. Rose prepares the wooden sculptures from plywood, cutting and sanding them to size, priming and masking off the color fields. He then uses several layers of acrylic paint to build up the surface so that if you were to gently run a finger across the dried paint, you would feel the three-dimensionality of the raised lines that divide the large color fields, thus creating a “hard edge.”
All of the fields have several colors mixed into them, with a formula that is difficult to repeat when he mixes the large amounts of paint required.
“The colors have to be right on,” Rose said. “The paint dries fast, and you have to build the layers so that the brushstrokes aren’t visible, yet the colors are even and smooth, nearly perfect.”
He gestures to one of his works: “If one color is off, the whole thing is off.” He grins. “It’s a lengthy process, done in stages, with the weather cooperating.”
“I could tell you about the importance of line,” he laughs, “but that would take a long time to dry.”
Trained as a studio artist with an art history minor in college, Rose has shown in installations such as the Fresno Art Museum, with his works in private collections. But as a bit of a recluse, he “prefers to show his work in the gallery in Angels Camp, where visitors from all over the world, as well as our own community members, can view and enjoy it, perhaps adding to their own art collections.”
Rose moved his family up to the Calaveras County foothills in 1983, after spending a short stint living near the Kings Canyon area east of Fresno. He grew up in Los Angeles.
A recent visitor to the Manzanita gallery, a university art instructor from New York, took one look at Rose’s work and said to the gallery director, “What’s he doing here in this small town? He should be showing in large installations in San Francisco and New York.”
The visitor went on to say, “This is exceptional work of high quality and sophistication, as good as it gets. This guy has got to get noticed.”
Art lovers can view Rose’s works – which also includes several of his photographs – and attend a free reception in his honor from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the gallery at 1211 S. Main St., Suite 110, Angels Camp. Hors d’oeuvres, wine and cheese and other libations will flow and the public is invited to celebrate and talk to Rose about the minimalist and abstract movements in art and how his works defy labels, yet carry on the tradition of experimentation and bold strides in advancing conceptual art.