People have been drawing for over 30,000 years. There is something fundamental about picking up a tool and using it to make marks, to share information or depict an experience. As an artist I see myself continuing this tradition. I use drawing as a way to carefully study the world around me – to understand, process and organize information.
Each drawing I make is built from an accumulation of marks, and the process of building, adding and layering them feels like an authentic way to make a drawing. It is like making a thing using atoms or cells or particles – small pieces gathered together to make a whole.
Life on Earth (detail)
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The ubiquitous presence of digital technology, particularly the Internet, and the resulting access to a deluge of information and imagery influences my work heavily. Life on Earth begins with a single-celled organism 3.8 billion years ago, and spirals through time, depicting early ocean life, plants, mammals, dinosaurs, primates, domestication of animals and genetically modified organisms. I used internet sources to conduct research and to find imagery to use as reference for sketches. In Google Portrait of Philip Guston, I used the results of an image search to create a kind of snapshot of the artist. The laptop drawings exist as portraits of their owners, and reflect the personal connection we have to our devices. I construct each drawing lovingly and carefully over time, and each one honors and celebrates its subject.
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Even from across the room, there is no mistaking that Mia Rosenthal’s pen and ink “laptops” and internet-derived images are actually created by hand. The shapes of the letters on the computer keys aren’t geometrically precise – they are irregular and individual. Rosenthal’s art is infinitely human, although her subjects straddle the line between human beings and the technology we have recently created. Sensing this contradiction, viewers feel invited to come close and investigate. When we see Rosenthal’s drawings from the intimate distance at which we normally sees our computers, we discover the outlines, dots, dashes and grids that Rosenthal has used to render the gleaming, plastic surfaces and internet-researched photographs. Every mark is as distinctively hers as a signature.
Rosenthal sees herself as continuing the same tradition as artists down the centuries, as far back as the earliest cave painters. Like the artists who painted and engraved lions and rhinoceroses on the walls of the Chauvet Cave
in France 32,000 years ago, Rosenthal simply makes art about what she sees. But as a twenty-first century artist, she has new means of observation and therefore new subject matter. Rosenthal’s computer-related images divide into two types: interpretations of images discovered through online research and depictions of computers themselves.
MacBook Pro (Scott) (detail)
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Rosenthal is fascinated by the intricate network of life forms on this planet through the millennia from the appearance of the earliest living things. In her monumental Life on Earth
drawings, she combines images discovered through online research to create elaborate sequences tracing the evolution of life from the prokaryote
, a family of single celled organisms first known in fossilized form some 3.8 billion years ago, to the genetically altered life forms emerging from laboratories now. She even includes her own son. Rosenthal’s drawings of such beings as dinosaurs stem from extensive online research. She finds a dizzying array of image types from photographs to artistic recreations of long-extinct creatures. The artist combines sources and transforms them into her own unified visual vocabulary with dot and circle eyes and lively outlines. The outlines of Rosenthal’s flora and fauna often overlap in dense groups that express the complexity of relationships among life forms in place and time.
Rosenthal’s Google Portraits also arise from source material discovered online. However, the artist brings together multiple images that would be fetched by a single search term. She creates “portraits” of artists as varied as nineteenth-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge and modern painter Philip Guston. These “portraits” gather search results in intriguing arrays, varying in scale and detail, to create complex patterns. Images created by these busy artists nearly crowd out images of them; therefore Rosenthal’s depictions are far more about her subjects’ visual impact on the world than about their physical appearance. Appropriately, Guston himself was a great gatherer and interpreter of popular imagery.
Rosenthal takes a different approach to portraiture in her portrayals of computers and smart phones belonging to her friends. Even more so than in the Google
Portraits, she shows us a technology through which her subjects communicate with the world. The inclusion of “attributes” – possessions or symbolic objects – in portraits goes back many centuries. In Rosenthal’s computer portraits, the attributes entirely replace the human subjects. It would be easy to exclaim, “How impersonal!” And yet, it isn’t so. Rosenthal allows us to observe an array of choices made by the computer’s owner: what brand and model of technology to purchase, what programs to use, and what image to use as “wallpaper” on the home screen. Rosenthal even asked her subjects to send her photographs of their computer cords, carefully wound or chaotically bunched, so that she could portray them. But we see all of this via the artist’s eye, hand, and creative mind. She crafts her art by hand in the ancient medium of ink. Rosenthal’s drawings play with technology but always transcend it. It is no accident that in her portrait of “Scott,” ancient cave drawings from the Chauvet Cave appear as the “wallpaper.”
Ann Prentice Wagner
Curator of Drawings