Rosie Lopeman, Certificate 2016, was the recipient of the 2016 Hohenberg Travel Award. We asked her to share with us her experience.
I am so fortunate to have received the Hohenberg Travel Grant. I remember the day I found out about the award, my teacher at the time, John Newman had been in my studio, looking at my work, and saying “Rosie, you gotta broaden your horizons! Get out of Brooklyn!” A few moments after he left, the email came through that I got the grant.
Planning the trip seemed impossible to me. There were many things I wanted to do, and many unknowns. I started in Ireland, and over the course of 10 weeks traveled to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Basel, Rome, Tuscany and London. I often feel like a traveler, even at home in New York, so my un-tethered position felt natural. The trip coincided with my training for the New York City marathon, which feels important to mention because running was a huge part of how I connected with each place. I would sometimes set out for a run with no map or plan, and let myself get lost. Eventually I would find a map to take the bus or train back to home base.
I share with you here a few high lights from the many things I encountered along the way. I chose these things because these were the few kinship I discovered, which offered me a sense of belonging as I strayed further and further from things I knew.
Munich: Michael Buthe at Haus Der Kunst
I arrived in Munich at dawn from a sleepless trip on a night bus from Berlin, and found my way to my Airbnb hosts, Anne and Joerg. They lived in a suburban looking part of the city. I instantly liked both of them. Their house was messy and their walls were covered in their kids’ art. After resting for a bit, I decided to go into the center of the city. I was still in a fog, but in that sort of fresh way, where you’re so tired, and you’re moving so slowly, that you can feel and be inspired by things that you might normally pass by.
I walked into Michael Buthe’s retrospective at Haus Der Kunst, an artist I had never heard of. He was a German artist from Cologne, and a student of Joseph Beuys at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf. He died in 1994.
The show revealed itself slowly to me. Once I entered into the work, there was an incredibly bright and intense energy. In fact, a lot of his work is devoted to the sun. He was working right on the brink of what he could do, seemingly fueled by an existential, obsessive and fearless love.
The work ranged from drawings, to sculpted paintings on canvas to sculptures and paintings made of unusual materials: earth, shells, hair, doors, brooms, trees, shoes, mouse droppings. I love how he stuck things together. You could see that he lived with these things, and that he had developed an intimate relationship with each element. Because of this, the work was very rich and specific. He was fluent with this broad, wide open language he had created.
Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden
Later in my trip, I stayed in Umbria for several days, in the city of Terni. I rented a car and set out on day trips. As I drove out of the city, I went through this dark tunnel, which released me on the other side into the sprawling Tuscan countryside. I loved having the steering wheel after being bound to public transport for so long; it gave me the freedom to move in more spontaneous directions. The first day with the car I stopped into the town of Tuscania to explore. I walked through a Church, Santa Maria Maggiore. I walked around the grounds of another church, which was closed, but had a looming presence. I snuck into a culinary school at the top of a big hill, where a student-run lunch was taking place, to use the bathroom.
Eventually I made it to Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden, a large sculpture garden in Capalbio, built on Etruscan ruins. My teachers Bill Jensen and Margrit Lewczuk had told me to go there. I had them in mind as I pulled up to this extraordinary place.
The plans for this garden began in 1955, when Niki saw Gaudi’s Park Guell in Barcelona, and it was still partially unfinished in 2002 when she died unexpectedly. It is a garden of large sculptures/architectural spaces, each one dedicated to a card from the major arcana of the tarot deck. Over the years working on the garden, Niki de Saint Phalle lived inside of “The Empress,” with her bedroom in one breast and her kitchen in the other. The archetypes from Tarot were her source, but her specific language encompassed Etruscan art, Native American art, Picasso, Gaudi, all filtered through her own innocent but endless will. As she said “Whether or not people think it is art doesn’t matter to me.”
I wonder, how can work be made and behave outside of ‘art’? The funny thing, which I was reminded of by this garden, is that all great art does. It is always trying to touch on something outside of what we know and what is expected of us. It was hard to see as much stuff as I did each day, and remember that the goal is not to just add your stuff to the world, but to create a rupture or space for new light. I am so grateful when I encounter work like this.
Tarquinia, the Etruscan Necropolis and Archaeological Museum
The following day, I drove to Tarquinia, where there is an Etruscan necropolis and archaeological museum. The necropolis is a large field at the top of a hill, covered in staircases that descend into 2,500 year-old tombs. You go down these stairs in the dark, press a button for light that goes on a 10 second timer, and look through plexi-glass. The wall paintings inside show life, death, celebration, mythology… checkers, concentric circles, stripes…a perfect integration of exuberant geometry and storytelling… between the form and content. The Etruscan people were mostly illiterate, which I think comes through: this seemed to be their primary way of communicating and defining themselves individually and as a culture. Unlike today, you could see in their tomb paintings and artifacts that there was no delineation between art and life. I would have liked to see what it looked like before all of the jugs and other burial items were removed from the tombs and moved to museums.
In the archaeological museum, I drew all day. I loved to follow the contours of each wine jug, sarcophagus, mirror, and watch with my pen each unexpected turn the maker took. These were jokes that lasted thousands of years. Representation and function were colliding. Is this about drinking wine? Or is it more about Dionysus? Or is it about how the liquid pours out? There was no item that was a static, self-contained thing. Everything showed some kind of metamorphosis, and existed as many things as once.
As the sun started setting, I looked out the window in the top floor of the museum and saw the Tyrrhenian Sea. I left quickly so I could jog on the beach before it got dark. I drove down the mountain and arrived at a beach that was almost totally abandoned. There were a couple people fishing and a few inexplicable stick formations poking out from the sand. Some restaurants that were closed for the season. I began running but the sun was fading fast and I didn’t know how safe I was there. I eventually decided to head back, but first I would make a few of my own stick formations in the sand. Just as I started to work, I saw a cloud of sand down the shore starting to get bigger. In a surreal reveal, I could see it was a man on a horse riding fast, headed in my direction straight out of the sunset. He pulled up next to me and we spoke for a while, mostly right past each other because neither of us knew the other’s language. We established that, yes, this, this is a horse. Si, questo e un cavallo. All was well, and I went back to town for a plate of gnocchi in broth with mint, pork jowl and clams.
As time passes, it is surprising to see how these experiences have cooked down, burrowed inward and resurfaced in my own work. I like to watch this process. For me, there wasn’t a direct transfer of information, in which I saw something and I knew that I would take my work in that direction. While traveling alone, just trying to get from point A to point B in every new city, in each new language, was a big challenge. Now, the more subtle, physical and energetic impressions are dredging up slowly over time in my work.
One of the few things I have finished since returning is this piece, Possession. The central part of it was started in Ireland. I was frustrated by it, and everything else I made while traveling. When I got back to New York, nothing I made in Europe, mostly small watercolors, felt of use to me. I started working larger. At one point in the studio, I found a piece of canvas left over from another process. It was a grid shape, with a space in the center that clearly asked me “what goes in here? What is this thing carrying?” What ended up in there was something from the trip… A “failed” work… and now it had a purpose. All of my frustrations in that thing, re-contextualized, became beautiful and clear to me. That’s one of the first things I’ve made recently where I can see the influence of my travels coming through.
I am so enormously grateful to the New York Studio School, for my entire education there and of course for the Hohenberg Travel Award. I remember my first year at the Studio School, I went to Florida with Graham Nickson, the Dean of the school, and another student to take a week-long figure painting class with him. I said to Graham “A year ago I couldn’t haven’t imagined I would find myself here, having Chinese food with you after painting all day.” And Graham said “Painting takes you to extraordinary places, Rosie.”
Thank you to my teachers, my classmates and everyone who makes the Studio School continue to be a place for artists to learn and transform. Thank you to the Hohenberg Foundation and its trustees who make the Hohenberg Travel Award possible every year. Thank you to everyone who housed me, taught me, fed me and inspired me.
To view more of Rosie’s work, visit her website.