The Oregon Coast Council for the Arts presents “Continuum,” an exhibition by Ben Killen Rosenberg in the Upstairs Gallery at the Newport Visual Arts Center from October 7 to November 26. “Continuum” features Rosenberg’s artistic interpretations of decaying birds found along Oregon’s beaches. The artist presents watercolor and ink painting in a series of works that began in 2014. A First Friday public reception will be held on October 7, 5-7pm, at the VAC, with an artist talk scheduled for 6:30pm during the reception.
Ben Killen Rosenberg received his BFA in printmaking from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1988 and his MFA in studio arts from Portland State University in 2007. He teaches at Clark College in Vancouver and has previously taught at Clatsop Community College in Astoria, Portland Community College, Portland State University, Clackamas Community College and the University of Portland. His illustration work has been commissioned by The Portland Tribune, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Oregonian, Johns Hopkins University, the Internal Revenue Service, Hewlett-Packard and the Philadelphia Daily News.
Ben Killen Rosenberg has been recording dead birds and decomposing wildlife over the last five years of exploring the Oregon beach stretching south of Neahkahnie Mountain to the jetty outside Manzanita. On Christmas Eve in 2014 he found the beach littered with the bodies of hundreds of Common Murres. They were “dead from starvation, dead from the warm waters off the coast, and for other reasons left for scientists to study.” Rosenberg says one might simply walk past the remains of a washed up bird or birds, step over them, and go about daily life, but that this mass die-off of Common Murres, Casein Auklets and Brown Pelicans was impossible for him to ignore. The birds seem banal at first glance but Rosenberg became intrigued by the compositions created by their bodies and their abstract beauty as they lay on the sand, surrounded by driftwood and washed up debris. The birds’ positions, and the play of light and shadow on form and the stark beauty of death forced him to take notice. He became like an urban archeologist, viewing the birds as fragments of unintentional design and seeing himself as a participant in an unspoken conversation. The resulting body of work is about the transition between life and death, embracing the whole of the journey, and not looking away.
“Continuum” is not Ben Killen Rosenberg’s first venture into artistically documenting changing lives. In drawing and painting both his mother’s and uncle’s changing bodies as they slid from the world, the artist came to see what his mother had long understood—death is a natural part of life. It’s an obvious statement, but Rosenberg says it was his mother’s own curiosity about what was happening to her as she was dying that allowed the space for his own curiosity to exist. After her death, he says, “I began to notice the birds.”
“Continuum,” the word, is a noun describing a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are perceptibly different from each other, although their extremes are quite distinct.
The Upstairs Gallery is open Tues.-Sat., noon to 4pm.