Altitudes and Latitudes — Michael Rossman’s tantalizing overgrowth at Cerulean Arts Gallery

[Michael reviews a show by graphite artist Michael Rossman, drawing our attention to the beauty of nature and its minutiae. — the Artblog editors] 

Whether he is exploring the Northern Alps of Italy or treading the swamps of Florida, Michael Rossman draws from life while entirely surrendering himself to the wills of nature. In his show Altitudes and Latitudes, up now at Cerulean Arts Gallery, Rossman presents drawings that read less as two-dimensional objects and more as voids in space veiled by unkempt assortments of plants.

Each mark within the drawings of this exhibition serves a purpose. Intricately placed lines highlight the bends in leaves or a crooked stump. Little gouges of graphite in the paper create miniature canyons that shimmer in viewers’ eyes as they walk by. It’s almost as though each individual drawing lures you into its labyrinth of hidden vines and trees. It is in this way that one falls under the spell of these hypnotic drawings.

Nature, untamed

Alexander Springs, Graphite on Arches Buff, 19.5” diameter
“Alexander Springs,” Graphite on Arches Buff, 19.5” diameter

The first drawing in the exhibition, “Alexander Springs,” has a circular format and is one of the strongest pieces in the show. As opposed to his rectangular drawings, Rossman’s circular frame struggles to contain a lush jungle of sharp and jagged mark-making while also creating a mesmerizing cyclical composition. “Alexander Springs” first appears uninviting, with its bladed shrubbery and crisp, hard-edged line work, but slowly regresses into a striking naturalist drawing. Here, the artist does not try to tame or manipulate nature, instead endeavoring to document it as accurately as possible without Western rules of perspective.

Memories of the Julier Pass, Graphite on Arches Buff, 30” x 22”
“Memories of the Julier Pass,” Graphite on Arches Buff, 30” x 22”

Relief is found in the jungle of interwoven weeds in “Memories of the Julier Pass”. The bottom of the image is weighted with a crag and a myriad of stone protuberances atop a whimsy of swirling lines. From afar, the ambiguous cloud grasps your attention with its thick shine glistening in the light, but upon closer inspection, this vague shroud appears alive and in motion. The undulating graphic eludes any distinct form; instead, the veil shrouds the rocky amalgamations, further skewing any sense of perspective within the scene.

Ten Thousand Storms #10, Graphite on Arches Buff, 5” x 4.25”
“Ten Thousand Storms #10,” Graphite on Arches Buff, 5” x 4.25”

Grappling for a sense of which way is up, the small square drawings scattered throughout the show provide intimate moments to get your bearings before you tackle another thicket of gracious staccato lines. “Ten Thousand Storms #10” provided the most enticing visual experience, with its velvety blacks and murky grays leeching into one another. Ellipses swirl into one another, feuding toward the center of the drawing and creating a sense of motion and tension within the glass frame, as though at any moment the glass could shatter.

Wekiwa Springs, Graphite on Arches Buff, 22” x 30”
“Wekiwa Springs,” Graphite on Arches Buff, 22” x 30”

Rossman not only challenges perspective; he has left it outside the door of Cerulean Arts Gallery and left in its place a whirlwind of drawings. A resounding sense of emotion is born out of the artist’s transcendental connection to nature, reading as a sincere adoration for disarray. The depth and detail he achieves within them is astounding, as it carries an energy that relentlessly struggles to break free from its frame. The artist has successfully broken his rectangular boundaries and found satisfying chaos within his circular drawings, which nearly rope you in.

Altitudes and Latitudes can be seen at Cerulean Arts Gallery on 1355 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19123, from April 2 through April 26, 2014.

Michael Carroll is a senior at Temple University studying studio art, art history, and Italian. He hopes to continue his involvement in the arts and work in the museum field.