Color As a Ritual: Alumna Artist Leah Rosenberg

By Grace Cote for McColl Center for Art + Innovation

In the 1969 film “To Open Eyes: A Film on Josef Albers” by Carl Howard and Arnold Brittleman, Albers is shown standing in front of his paintings and says, 

“All the colors are directing us to see more than there is, and that is what art is for.”

Leah Rosenberg, a San Francisco-based artist and McColl Center alumna artist-in-residence (2017), has focused her career on convincing audiences of the same thing. She considers herself a “color collector” and uses color as a medium to record moments and places. “Color has become my ritual,” she declares.

During her McColl Center artist residency, she initiated a project called Color for the People, in which she observed colors in the Charlotte landscape, chose one to highlight each week, and painted a portion of the gallery at McColl Center with that color. At the end of her residency, twelve colors filled the exhibition space.

Color for the People at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, December 2017.

Each week, and for each color, Rosenberg hosted an event called Color Bar where, with help from a team of students from Central Piedmont Community College’s Culinary Arts program, she crafted cocktails and edible treats to match. Participants were encouraged to eat, drink, and make connections between experiences of color, flavor, and people.

At one of the Color Bars, Rosenberg met Lauren Harkey, the owner of Charlotte-based art gallery and consulting firm Hodges Taylor. Harkey recalls how “intuitive, clever and down-to-earth [Rosenberg] is, in her practice and personality.” The two kept in touch, meeting again later at an event in New York City. 

Harkey eventually offered Rosenberg a solo exhibition at Hodges Taylor—To Open Eyes—which runs from December 13, 2019, to January 31, 2020.

This summer, Rosenberg traveled to Italy for an artist residency in the small Tuscan village of Toiano. “My time in Italy was a break from the norm, so I used it as an opportunity to approach my color collecting in a different way,” she says. 

“I wanted more poetry to the process, to meander more and happen upon the color.”

“I worried less about an audience and thought more about my own intuition around color. I turn to it like some people might go to church.”

Leah Rosenberg, from the series Another Language, 2019. Colored pencil on paper, 19.5 x 27.5 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Hodges Taylor.

A group of 36 single-color drawings, created in Italy and made from rows and rows of small vertical hatch marks, are part of the new work on view at Hodges Taylor. Small breaks in the rows show a square of the white paper beneath, the remnant of when Rosenberg paused to sharpen her pencil. 

These white spaces record time in the same way the weekly gallery painting did at McColl Center, and also mark the moment where she physically left the work. She plans to show additional objects and artworks that carry on this meditative mark-making process. 

For over a decade, Rosenberg has put tremendous effort into creating works that engage with other people, but the drawings, sculptures, and prints on view at Hodges Taylor show a shift. 

“It’s rare that I have an opportunity to have a gallery show,” admits the artist. “A lot of my work is public facing and thinking about audience engagement.”

However, she continued, “I have been so concerned about what my art does for other people for so long that it became at my own expense.” 

In this exhibition, Rosenberg celebrates color, drawing on the same spirit that produced the Color Bar series, but in an introspective way. In this body of contemplative, non-performative work, she simultaneously show visitors and asks them to see the many ways color can enhance your life.

McColl Center alumna artist Leah Rosenberg’s To Open Eyes is on view at Hodges Taylor from December 13, 2019, to January 31, 2020. 

The opening reception is on Friday, December 13, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. An artist talk will take place at Hodges Taylor on Saturday, December 14, at 11:00 a.m., moderated by Lia Newman, Director and Curator of Van Every/Smith Galleries at Davidson College.