Tuesday, April 14, 2009

ArtsBuzz: A Rosie perspective at Boca's Wentworth Gallery

Godot, by Rosie O'Donnell.

By Marya Summers

BOCA RATON -- Even in a non-verbal medium, Rosie O’Donnell manages to be big, loud and confrontational.

The 13-time Emmy Award-winning American comedienne, television personality, celebrity blogger, philanthropist, gay-rights activist, author and actress also adds “artist” to her resume. Her intense, abstract paintings are currently on display at Wentworth Gallery in Boca Raton’s Town Center Mall.

Lots of celebs genre-jump, and not always with as much grace (Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Bob Thornton, anyone?), but Rosie’s in it for charity. Her share of the sales go to Rosie’s for All Kids Foundation, which she founded in 1997 to benefit disadvantaged children.

Still, are her paintings any good?

Well, like their creator, they are bold and expressive. Press releases compare her work with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s. True, the artists share an uninhibited expression, but Rosie isn’t going to revolutionize the art world. We’ve seen similar abstraction and crude forms from many other self-taught artists.

What gives them value is that they’re just so, well, Ro.

“Because she’s so bombastic, people know her – love her or hate her – and that’s what creates value,” says Michael O’Mahoney, director of the Boca gallery and VP of the Wentworth chain, which also represents other celebrity artists such as actor Jane Seymour and rockers Grace Slick and Paul Stanley.

Like O’Donnell’s notorious confrontations with Elizabeth Hasselbeck on the ABC talk show The View, many of the paintings are intense and angry. Martha, one of a series that O’Donnell painted in response to Martha Stewart’s incarceration, is as livid as it is vivid.

“I was so angry I painted like 20 of them,” O’Donnell said on the March 31 episode of The Martha Stewart Show.

Justice, by Rosie O'Donnell.

In fact, O’Donnell started painting to release the toxic emotions in what she calls “a soulquake” that resulted from the 9/11 attacks.

Though the otherwise crafty O’Donnell (she’s authored a kids crafts book called Crafty U) doesn’t stretch her own canvases, it is evident her heart is in her work. With a more-is-more aesthetic, many of the pieces are thickly layered with art and craft supplies – paper, paint, stamped images, and photographs. Some even feature buttons and tongue depressors.

Of course, it wouldn’t be O’Donnell if her work didn’t have something to say. And so words – like “justice” – are often painted on the canvas, and many works incorporate news clippings from current events as a way to express the artist's political views.

While many works express bombastic Rosie, others show their maker’s softer side – you know, the side that loves to call kids “cutie-patooties.” The art sometimes ventures into a realm a bit too cutesy, but that’s just part of the O’Donnell oeuvre, regardless of medium. Her blog features cheery poetry that is just as liberated as her visual art from any training in theory or technique.

O’Donnell fans who pre-purchase her art work through the gallery will be invited to a VIP reception where the artist will dedicate the works to their buyers and pose for photographs before her public appearance from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, when the general public is invited to see O’Donnell behind a cordoned-off area.

But it’s not a diva thing.

“She really wants to put the emphasis on raising money for the kids,” O’Mahoney says, adding that the public will still get its celeb fix. “They’ll be close – closer to her than anyone would be in the audience of The View.”

Now that’s perspective.

Marya Summers is a freelance writer based in South Florida.

Blue Face, by Rosie O'Donnell.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All True and good call.The object of art or a stage/screen performance is to evoke some shared emotion or reaction. The Ramones weren't Bach but that doesn't mean it has less value to consumers of that ilk.
While its true that the creations may not be on the auction block at Chritsties in 100 years they deserve a look from an indivdual who continues to get the public's attention which is atalent in itself.Whether her foundation is a tax haven for a wealthy individual or not is not a consideration....its for a good cause and she should be applauded whether you like her work or not.