Poetic Statements: Recent Sculpture by Joseph Rossano
by Karen S. Chambers (2002)
Recently, the line between literature and visual art has become blurred, with gallery walls displaying works that literally must be read to be comprehended. It is a relief to encounter a sculptor who makes poetry: Joseph Rossano is creating the visual equivalent of haiku.
In that highly stylized Japanese form of poetry, the poet must communicate his message using 17 syllables, divided into three lines of 5, 7, and 5 syllables each, for example, “Waterjar cracks: / I lie awake / This icy night,” by the Japanese master Basho (1644–1694). The reader absorbs the meaning as much as interprets it. Like haiku, Rossano’s work uses a prescribed format to present a message that is more evocative than literal.
For the sculptures that hang on the wall, the artist places several elements on a highly varnished, rectangular slice of old-growth Douglas fir. Each growth ring reveals something of the history of the earth over the perhaps six centuries of the tree’s life before it was felled. Framed like a picture, this support is as refined as the structure of a haiku.
On this background, which represents both nature and civilization, Rossano places objects that are the equivalents of the words of a haiku. These elements often include a contemporary photograph taken with an antique camera and sandwiched between two pieces of glass; the portrayal of a current scene stands for the present but is seen through a romantic, historicizing eye. Other elements are remnants of nature or artifacts of man, such as the wings of a blue jay, a salmon spear, or a saw blade. They are presented for the viewer’s inspection, as they might appear in a natural history or anthropology museum. Plucked out of context by Rossano’s act of selection, they are transformed from ordinary to remarkable, just as mundane words take on unexpected depth and meaning when placed in a poetic sequence.
To these found or recovered objects, Rossano adds a glass representation of an item that speaks of the past. It may be something that once lived and is now extinct—the salmon that no longer thrive in their once natural habitat—or it may be a symbol of a personal memory. In glass, these realistically rendered elements are exquisite and otherworldly, the distilled essence of what they represent.
Each of the elements relates to the others in some way because all are of the natural world or signify a tool made by man to subjugate that world to his will. The meanings of Rossano’s sculptures can be as elliptical as haiku but, like that challenging poetic form, may also be vastly rewarding for those who open themselves to the artist’s message about nature and man’s place in it.