Catchig up with Blaise Rosenthal, 2014 New American Paintings Annual Prize Winner

One of the most gratifying aspects of publishing New American Paintings over the years has been watching our alumni go on to accomplish great things. The publication's history is replete with artists who were featured early in their careers that have gone on to become nationally and, in some cases, internationally recognized artists. Among them are individuals such as Iona Rozeal Brown, William Cordova, Amy Cutler, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Matthew Day Jackson, Eddie Martinez, Allison Schulnik and James Siena. At the end of the day, New American Paintings' number one goal is to offer deserving artists a vehicle though which there work can be discovered by an engaged and geographically diverse audience.

Since 2010, New American Paintings has awarded an annual prize to one of the two hundred and forty artists featured in that calendar year's six issues (look for our 2015 poll in the next week). In 2014, the winner of that prize was self-taught artist, Blaise Rosenthal, whose dusky, minimal abstractions draw more from his personal experiences and the American landscape then they do art historical precedent. I ran into Rosenthal's work on my annual visit to the Miami art fairs in early December. As I walked down an aisle of the UNTITLED art fair, there they were in the distance. I recognized them instantly, which, in today's overcrowded and homogenized art world really says something. It may sound trite, but these paintings have genuine presence and are clearly made by an artist who is actively searching...who is digging in the dirt. There is no artifice, or pretense to them.

As it happens, the reason Rosenthal's paintings were on view at UNTITLED is that Oakland based gallery Johannson Projects had recently discovered the work in New American Paintings. By all accounts, the relationship between Johannson and Rosenthal has turned into one that has been mutually beneficial. I had the chance to speak with Rosenthal at UNTITLED, and subsequently reached out to ask him some additional questions about his work and practice. Our conversation can be found below. - Steven Zevitas, Publisher

Blaise Rosenthal | The Ridge, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 26x29 Inches


SZ: When did you begin painting?

Blaise Rosenthal: I've been making art in some form or another for as long as I can remember. Some of my first memories are of drawing when i was very young. But it's been about 10 or 11 years now that I've had a more focused approach to my practice.

SZ: When did your current body of work begin?

BR: The first painting that I would consider to be related to my current practice was made in 2009, and it represented a turning point in my work. Then, working from there, I figured a couple of things out in 2012 that became the basis for what I'm working on now.

SZ: Tell me about your practice? How are these paintings made?

BR: I have a space in a complex and a home studio as well, because I find that it's necessary for me to be constantly tinkering with something. I have a few different bodies of work going that all have quite a bit of time invested in them. For the paintings featured in NAP, which are what i would consider to be my primary work, I make them with acrylic and charcoal on canvas through a process that involves layering and repetition. I utilize a reductive vocabulary for these paintings. This is not for the sake of a conceptual minimalism. I want the paintings to be moving and as holistically experiential as possible.

SZ: How has your thinking about these paintings evolved over time?

BR: I have a tendency to move slowly in my practice. I try to always reconsider my work and the decisions I'm making. I like when i can make a very small decision or a minor shift in an idea, and it can have a big impact on the outcome. There's something about operating in a realm of reduced means where minor actions can have paramount consequences that is appealing to me. I feel like I need to be very intimate with each piece of work to be able to do this. So I tend to have an unfolding comprehension based on continued contemplation and the new context that the entire body of work provides as each new painting is completed.

Blaise Rosenthal | Column, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 64x50 Inches

SZ: How did you first hear about New American Paintings?

BR: I saw one in a bookstore and bought it. But I only submitted years later, at the recommendation of my friend Lisa Hochstein, who was featured in the west coast issue the year before I was.

SZ: What was the impact of being featured for you?

BR: Being featured led to connecting with the gallery I'm working with now, Johansson Projects. They have created a lot of great opportunities for me, which may not have happened without NAP. So it's been a very positive impact.

SZ: What do like/dislike most about that activity of exhibiting?

BR: I get a little stressed out about everything being just right, which it never totally is. So I try to get things as close as I can to how I want them, and then at a certain point I have to just let go and leave. I usually don't feel comfortable with an installation until I go away from it and then come back. Then it can become a singular situation for me, and it is often better than I realized it was before, when it was appearing to me as a series of decisions. In the end, when the work is in a venue that allows it to really function, and there is an audience that is receptive to it, it can be a very gratifying experience.

SZ: Do you visit museums and galleries with any frequency?

BR: Yes. As a self taught painter it has been an integral part of my education to get out and see as much as possible. I like museum visits, but even more I enjoy wandering through gallery districts in different cities discovering new contemporary work. This makes working feel like I'm engaging in the broader visual dialog that is happening beyond the walls of my studio and my circle of artist friends. The internet has also been an invaluable tool for learning about new artists and seeing new work.

Blaise Rosenthal | White Elephants, Acrylic and Charcoal on Canvas, 50x64 Inches