Rosemary Lucy Cosentino is an artist who lives in Montreal, Quebec. I actually met her online after she responded to one of my blogs. I checked out her website, www.rosemary-cosentino.com and I loved her art which I think has a brooding, solitary quality. Consequently, I asked her to chat here. She’s actually breaking the rules by sticking with the old school ... Read on and you’ll see what I mean.
MICHAEL: Thanks for chatting Rosemary. First of all, you call yourself a "Contemporary Figurative Realist Artist" who employs "Old Master" techniques. Is it really possible to breathe new life into old techniques?
ROSEMARY: Definitely! Hopefully, I won't go too much off topic, but everything I say is relevant to why I strongly believe this to be true. Growing up, my true inspiration in becoming an artist came from impressive realist oil paintings I saw in books, television and museums. I wanted to be able to paint that way as well and in doing so, I would be perhaps one day as well able to inspire some child in becoming an artist in the same way the Old Masters did for me. I have used the old techniques and took the most important part of that (knowing how to make your paints and how to apply them properly on hand prepared grounds) and created my own style and personalized technique. I can ensure my paintings will last through the test of time and still be classified as a contemporary artist who paints figuratively and realistically. Up close, my works are very painterly and the layering of brushstrokes is not the same, but similar to what Rembrandt did in his works. I can paint photo-realistic if I choose with a brushstroke free flawless look or expressionist or even abstract. I will always employ the Old Master technique no matter the subject. It does not matter really what you are painting, but how you are painting it. Rembrandt's scratchy, layered, painterly strokes were genius. He captured so much with so little. There are no restrictions on subject matter like in those days, and so I do not fear being thrown in jail for trying to depict something other than representational and what is real. But, it is my choice to paint the way I do.
MICHAEL: You mentioned past restrictions on painters and how you have much more freedom today. Have you ever had restrictions?
ROSEMARY: Some teachers in University showed disrespect for my choice in painting this way. Though they did not question my techniques, they felt I was not contemporary enough. They actually could not care less as to what techniques were being used or materials, as long as it was, "minimalist" and "temporary" or "edgy." Very few teachers supported me. After the third year, I had a following for the “out-of-date” art I was doing and without being egoistic, I contributed to changing the direction of the Fine Arts program at Concordia University for sticking to the style of painting I loved most. I always hated following rules and doing what everyone else did because it was "cool" or "in." Teachers came to me for techniques and often asked what I used after that. The University was known for contemporary art since so many big artists like Guido Molinari taught there or came from the University … artists who as part of art history, were part of the Modern Art movement- not figurative painting. Speaking of whom, Molinari was one of my last teachers and he told me I was his biggest challenge ever. I refused to impress him with the type of work he loved- minimalist, modern abstract as so many others were doing just to get his attention and perhaps get a recommendation or two from him. Though he was so famous even while he was alive, he was not arrogant with me like other teachers were nor disrespectful. He accepted that I was going to paint figuratively and using techniques he was not familiar with himself or known for. He said he surprised himself. I did not learn anything from him, but I think he learned a lot from me. His appreciation grew for more representational work.
MICHAEL: That's great. I think that the best teachers are always learning new things. So, given your respect for the old masters, what do you think are the differences between their work and more modern applications?
ROSEMARY: I think there is a strong difference between historical figurative realist work and today's figurative realist artists. Subject matter, talent, ready-made cheap materials and many other factors of course make the difference. A lot of artists try painting this way without knowing the techniques or materials they should be using. Many get away with it aesthetically and some just do not because of lack of training, experience or laziness. I came across an artist with no artistic training whatsoever who is great at reproduction of photos. His technique is extremely poor, though an art collector would never know unless they understood all there was to know about painting. All his paintings I saw in the flesh were cracking! Didn't anyone else notice this? Apparently not. Yet he is highly sought after and has been showered with prizes and glory. You cannot cut corners when you decide to paint this way. You cannot be lazy. It is about discipline and perseverance. The Old Masters had so much time on their hands I am sure, but very little distractions as we do today. And they also did not have visual aids as we do to make an artist's painting process that much easier, such as digital photography. So to sum it up, I believe that Old Master techniques in today's times can be reinvented. That is certainly a big part of what I try to achieve in my series of artworks … the feel of the "old" but the look of the "new."
MICHAEL: There’s a true paradox here. You’re breaking the rules by sticking with tradition. Who knew? But seriously, is it really okay to mimic the old techniques?
ROSEMARY: It's perfectly acceptable, though not everyone feels this way. Large, modern, figurative oil paintings are still the type of art that fetch the most money at auctions. Odd Nerdrum, Gerard Richter and Lucian Freud are great living examples of how far these techniques can be taken in today's times, still loved, in demand and collected internationally.
MICHAEL: I absolutely LOVE Lucian Freud and Odd Nerdrum. Speaking of the fact that modern, figurative work sells so well, how much pressure do you feel to create work that you know will sell well or at least appeal to the masses? Is appealing to the masses a bad thing?
ROSEMARY: From the very beginning, the question never crossed my mind … making art that appealed to the masses or that would sell well. I thought no matter what I would create, that it would be accepted and become like many artists -what they would be known for- my own signature so to speak. Accepted, respected, and acknowledged. In the last couple of years, I realized not everyone appreciates what I do, not everyone wants narrative figurative paintings. I understand this because everyone would then be one big massive clone and individuality would not exist. So I decided to do work I still loved, but more enjoyable in subject matter and creation part of it. The pressure was not destroying me emotionally, but yes it was there, because I need to make a living from my art and I had to compromise at some point or another to make ends meet. I accepted the compromise graciously, and the results were unexpected.
MICHAEL: An artist who is actually admitting to compromising? Hmm. What did you do?
ROSEMARY: I began to make pop realist resin cake or dessert paintings and people responded very well to this series. Not to mention I enjoy making these works because the results are not calculated as are my larger oil paintings. I actually did not see it as work, but making art for fun. It was totally a different direction for me. However, I am still doing my more serious, ambitious work and working on these resin dessert paintings as well. Not too much of a terrible compromise. I also started a new project last year called, "Painting a Day.” This appeals to many collectors who themselves are collector addicts of daily painters that is a movement with artists that is growing each passing day. I am addicted to doing at least one small work a day of a modern still life like a Chinese mirror ball, vintage marble, or fresh Montreal landscape. These other works that I was forced to experiment with, actually helped me in ways I cannot even explain. I was able to sell more on international basis and so my work was disseminated as a result all over the world. My techniques diversified, I explored different subject matters and I was forced to be original in more than just one series of works. Appealing to the masses is not a bad thing necessarily for me anyway.
MICHAEL: It sort of sounds like you stretched yourself as an artist by trying to please others. It's so rare to hear ANYONE say this, let alone artists. There’s so much arrogance out there right now.
ROSEMARY: I learned so much more about myself, trying to create something someone else was going to enjoy and not necessarily me the creator. Because of this, I have now as well equipped myself to create small, figurative sculptures that can attract a whole other audience and will continue to create fun artwork. I also considered making paintings for children. That is a whole other audience as well. This can be looked upon negatively by art dealers. But is it really? Why can't an artist have different projects, techniques and audiences?
MICHAEL: Preach sister preach. As a collector, I can’t believe I’m hearing this. Why do some folks in the art world even consider this an issue?
ROSEMARY: Consistency perhaps, confusion with collectors or the fact that dealers normally want exclusivity on series of works and "they" are the ones limiting artists to what they can sell to their audiences. I think the latter is the answer. Andy Warhol is known for his Pop art, but he branched into so many techniques and styles, prints, silkscreen, collage, sculpture, ready-made ... unless he signed it or it was attributed to him, not everyone would recognize all his works as Andy Warhol's. I think that adds to his diversity, interests and says a lot more to me than "formula artists" who find something the masses want and that's all they pump out for the rest of their lives not because they love it or want to do it, but because it's the demand and this allows them to survive and live off their art. But in the end, what ultimately would satisfy any artist would be that they can please and sell their works to "the masses" without compromising one thing. There would be a lot more original artwork out there actually and perhaps a lot more creative and bizarre never before seen artwork for sure. A handful of artists have experienced this ultimate satisfaction, but I wonder how many other successful artists would admit they were painting to sell and not for themselves.
MICHAEL: Perhaps this is my bias as a collector, but I've never felt that artistic integrity and pleasing people always have to be mutually exclusive. You seem to have found a happy medium.
ROSEMARY: I agree with you on that point. Artistic integrity is something all artists have. There are exceptions, but, in most cases, artists will be forced to suppress it in order to get themselves out there and compromise to please viewers, buyers, and dealers. I heard of this happening late in one's artistic career as well. I just hope that after a certain time and that after the artist has made a name for themselves, this would no longer be an option. This is something no artist would admit in public or in an interview perhaps. I will never fully demise my artistic integrity. I have limits and if I don't put my foot down, I won't be taken seriously either. In the end, I am respected more for turning something down that would diminish my artistic integrity. No matter what, even in a private commission, I am never miserable painting it. How could I be? I am making art and I take it that this will please one or many individuals. This is where the thought of not creating what I normally would to please someone or many people is not losing integrity, nor compromising. I think sometimes it's artist's egos that get in the way more than their integrity. They often confuse the two! When a dealer makes the call, (saying) paint the same painting over and over for me because this is what is selling, then this is a choice the artist has to make. No one is pointing a gun to your head. But, I have heard horror stories of artists compromising beyond their means and losing artistic integrity to the point of depression and spoiling their career altogether. Again, the artist has the choice. You never put yourself in a situation where you would lose your career to please an art dealer for example. There are many art dealers out there and buyers all over the world.
MICHAEL: Do you have any idea where your art will take you in the future or should mystery be part of the journey?
ROSEMARY: I believe I was born a painter, but my curiosity to understand and learn as many mediums as possible is impossible to hold back. Forcing myself to explore and try different mediums allows me to be more knowledgeable in my artistic field. It's only normal. As an artist, I must understand as many mediums as I can as if I were to be able to teach them to students. My happy medium is oil painting. I newly discovered polymer clay for sculpting and this will be something I will be pursuing as well. I am uncertain of where my art will take me in my future, hopefully somewhere between established painter and art teacher. The mystery is part of the journey almost 100% of the time I feel with my art. It's been like this since day one. You never know where you will have a show, which gallery will pick up your artwork, who you are going to meet, who will buy and who wants to learn from you. I want with certainty to know in which direction I am heading, I aspire to many things and expect specific outcomes by a certain point in my career. Teaching art from my own gallery one day is one of them. Focus is very important. There is nothing wrong with experimenting and trying new mediums as long as I focus on a handful or less and stick to them.
MICHAEL: Thanks Rosemary. This was such a breath of fresh air. Rock on with integrity!
Check out Rosemary’s website at www.rosemary-cosentino.com