Michael X. Rose has held a special place in the Hudson Valley art world ever since he moved up here in 2000 for an Art teaching gig at Ulster/Orange BOCES, and the room to raise his family in what many consider Ulster County’s oldest wooden house, built in the late 17th century. He became a member of the GAS cooperative gallery and had one of the first exhibits in the Kingston Museum of Contemporary Arts (KMoCA)’s space on Abeel Street, after an early move. He’s one of the region’s top sellers each New York Art Week via the Fountain Art Fair. He recently started showing a half-hour Gothic horror film that he wrote and directed, in which he also stars. And he’s planning up a novel way of showing his paintings and sketches, massive and small, somewhere in Kingston with his growing circle of highly talented art friends.
On a recent Friday night, we spoke as Rose – who met his wife when they joined a punk band while getting Art degrees at the Pratt Institute, and who now has eight kids – was preparing a mess of $100 artworks for a Frozendale art show at Scott Ackerman’s Lovebird Studio. He noted that, given the time, people would be buying works still a bit sticky from their newness, like a Beaujolais.
Rose’s work is hyper-narrative, neo-Outsider and smart as a whip. Cavemen battle dinosaurs, satyrs chase nymphs, lightning strikes picnickers, Christ gets resurrected, the gods of Egypt take on robots, ghosts haunt landscapes, Nazis fight nymphs and so on. It’s dramatic and raw work, large and vivid like Latin American biblical works – until one realizes the control that goes into each painting, its superb grounding elements and painting touches, as well as the acuity of each concept at play.
“I definitely had a moment,” Rose recalls from his days at Pratt, when he was immersing himself in the rigors of analytical Cubism, and some friends in the band scene asked why he no longer made art as fun as the stuff that he used to draw in his notebooks back in high school. “I started adding stuff to found paintings, like some kid who’d snuck into a museum. And then I started creating new works from scratch, seeing my backgrounds as large stage sets.”
Then, during his final year teaching Art in the New York public school system, he had another “moment” when he realized that he spent his life reading whatever was lying around or suggested by others. “My wife pointed out that I could actually buy books and pick what I read,” he recalls, noting how he had discovered a series of classics and focused first on Gothic works, then Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, moving up to Goethe and on. “It was like I gave myself a quirky Harvard education… Now, I’ll get an idea for a painting and sketch it out, work up tempera versions of the piece, then move on to the oils.”
Rose’s big paintings now include works seven-feet-by-six-feet in size, like The Great Flood, shown at KMoCA last year. He has a growing number of collectors these days, and Rose finds that with teaching, moviemaking and family life, he can create about seven or eight of them a year, plus 20 to 25 smaller 12-inch-by-16-inch oils, and he sells sketches for much less.
That brings up another moment: During his Master’s studies at Queens College, an older artist noted how the gilded altar pieces that he was making at the time, and ghost paintings involving months for sections to dry, were holding him back. “He said, ‘You have to work faster,’” Rose recalls. And finally, there was the emergence of his basic philosophy of art, wherein “A painting should be like a philosophical treatise: You want to look at it for a decade. Complexity’s important.”
He talks about Poussin’s work beyond his reputation for landscape, and the great John Martin, a painter of massive apocalyptic works later used as a model for the films of D. W. Griffith, Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Mankiewicz, and of his current plans for some massive new works about the end of the Earth as imagined today, with opening Interstates and swelling streams.
And that film? Turns out that Bloodlust of the Druid Overlords, in which he plays St. Patrick, mixes the themes (and actual images) of his own paintings with costumed and masked scenes, buckets of faked gore, Shawangunk area settings and a Grand Guignol-meets-Catholic narrative with a heavy metal/punk soundtrack of his own making. And it works: It played recently in Beacon, as well as in Dublin, Ireland on Halloween. Now he’s mulling getting other friends with similar tastes in film – a mix of horror, art and overbaked Gothic plots with mythic overtones – to form a collective, the better to make more such things.
As for the big art, he’s looking into ways to revive Martin and other great 19th-century painters’ way of charging folks to see grand works in settings – perhaps in settings where performance and music could also be a part of what’s happening. He’s also looking toward similar event-based artforms, including the lost phenomenon of rolling paintings that tell narratives. “I love form and structure,” he says, “but I also want to have fun.”
For information on the work of Michael X. Rose, visit www.michaelxrose.com.