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McNay Art Museum's ARTMATTERS 15: Q&A with Illinois-based artist Rosalyn Schwartz
Rosalyn Schwartz, Landscape, 18"x18", 2012. Oil on canvas. Collection of Rene Barilleaux.

SAN ANTONIO, TX.- For the fifteenth presentation in the ARTMATTERS series of work by contemporary artists, the McNay brings together paintings and collages by Illinois-based artist Rosalyn Schwartz. Schwartz’s work finds inspiration in decor, elements of kitsch, interior design, and references to art history. By juxtaposing representational and abstract imagery with decorative motifs and patterns, Schwartz asks the viewer to consider questions of accepted style and personal taste: “While explicit in their unapologetic allure, my paintings present a contemporary investigation of the quintessential conflict between our notions of beauty and futility, perfection and impossibility.”

Schwartz received a BFA from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, and an MFA from Fontbonne University, St. Louis. Her work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally and she has received a number of awards and fellowships including an Arts Midwest/NEA Fellowship Grant in Painting, as well as a McKnight Foundation Fellowship, and a Bush Foundation Fellowship.

In 2014, the McNay will include Schwartz’s work in the summer feature exhibition, Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting.

Q: The title for the fifteenth installment of the ARTMATTERS series is “Rosalyn Schwartz: A Brief History of Seduction.” What inspired this title?

A: I wanted to lure the viewer into wondering if such a title was meant as a sociological, academic analysis of the idea of seduction or perhaps a more “tongue and cheek” interpretation (no pun intended).

Q: In your exhibition, you discuss the concepts of taste, beauty, style, fashion, and kitsch elements. Where did your interests in each of these elements originate?

A: My mother was an interior decorator so I was raised in a home with very lush surroundings. It seemed that there were daily changing shows of everything from ornately carved glass candelabras, gilded, rococo-styled sconces, very old, fragile Chinese papier-maché boxes, and art-nouveau statuettes. And there was even more: mid-century modern lamps adorned with their carved plaster fruits, Danish end tables, mosaic ash trays and the orange, yellow and black modernist paintings. Often, this kind of maximalist living environment would induce a strange form of intoxication. While certain pieces looked like they could just as well be kitsch, of “poor taste,” I also knew that these pieces were of the highest quality and provenance, the ultimate in “good taste.”

Q: You feature the French sex symbol Brigitte Bardot in a series of collages and digital prints. Is Bardot interchangeable with past and current sex symbols, or is there something in particular about her that sparked your interest?

A: During yearly summer trips to Paris, I always visit a particular vintage magazine shop that sells French magazines from the 1940’s through the 1990’s. On a recent visit a few years ago, I walked into the shop only to be surrounded with endless stacks of French New Wave film, fashion and interior design magazines. Virtually all of the magazines had cover photos of the eponymous, iconic symbol of beauty and sexiness, Brigitte Bardot. At that precise moment, I knew I had to purchase as many of these magazines as I could so that I could start a brand new series of collages.

Q: You started collecting ornate vases in 2008 that are on display in the exhibition. Why do you incorporate these in your work? Do you have specific criteria you look for in the pieces you collect and how have they influenced your artistic process?

A: I have always been interested in and amazed by what features distinguish an object from being “beautiful” versus “kitsch.” A while back, I unexpectedly came across a highly embellished and inexpensive vase at an antique shop and then started collecting various kinds on eBay. They are meant to serve as additional notes of “sweet design” for the arranged vignettes I set up. I want the viewer to be drawn to or even bewildered by these decorative motifs. I continue to ask the question, “who is the arbiter of taste?”

Q: Going back to the digital prints, is this the first time you’ve worked in the digital medium and did that present new challenges as an artist?

A: Yes, it is the first time making prints and I plan to make more. After seeing what can happen by increasing the size of a smaller collage to a much larger digital print, a whole new direction of possibilities had opened up, both formally and conceptually.

Q: A major theme in this exhibition is taking recognizable, often famous, images from magazines, old books, or classic paintings and repurposing them. What is it about these images that made you want to transform them into something new, and what message are you hoping your audience takes away?

A: I am interested in making contemporary reenactments of the so-called “masterpiece” using highly saturated, often lurid colors that become metaphors for our quintessential conflict between notions of beauty and kitsch, perfection and impossibility. I confess that I am a contemporary “romantic” and today this feels radical, even inappropriate.

Q: This is the first time you have designed an entire space. Did that present new challenges in your work?

A: Most definitely it has and it is thanks in large part to the McNay’s chief curator Rene Barilleaux who has given me this incredible opportunity and encouragement. From this current installation, I have become much more aware of how the “choreographing” of a given space through lighting, the selection of wall colors and where things are placed, can produce a much more unique, specific experience of how to look at art beyond the traditional wall display.

Q: Is your work currently on view at the McNay a preview of what we can expect from you and your contribution to the McNay’s Summer 2014 exhibition, Beauty Reigns: A Baroque Sensibility in Recent Painting? Or are you planning something different?

A: Yes and maybe!

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