Deep-rooted cedar sculptures
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Mar. 23, 2012
Part expressionist, part lumberjack, Rachel Rotenberg makes sinuous wood abstractions with power tools. Only one of the sculptures in her "New Work," at Hillyer Art Space, is larger than human life: "Before Midnight" is a floor piece that's taller than the artist, and indeed most people. But all four of them, constructed primarily from cedar, are imposing.
A Canadian who lives in Baltimore, Rotenberg gives equal billing to space, shape and texture. Pieces twirl from side to side, changing form and color as they go. "Before Midnight" defines a void, suggesting a hollowed-out gourd from a gargantuan world. But it also incorporates dried vines, which snake around one end, and different sorts of finishes. From one angle, the piece looks like a found object; from another, it's indisputably machined.
"Conversation" uses vines to create a twisting sort of frame that intertwines at the bottom, again using wood to conceive a space. Often, the artist stains the cedar with pigment, yielding a weathered appearance that suggests both natural tones and the effect nature has on man-made objects over time. The use of color, however subtle, reflects Rotenberg's connection to painting, much as the curving vines hint at line drawing. Once viewers have accepted the works' sheer brawn, they can begin to see them as works on paper that have become robustly three-dimensional.