For his first European show, NYC-based conceptual artist Jonathan Rosen has contributed a series of large-scale, mixed media pieces to the walls of concept shop colette. The artworks within this exhibition, “I WANT TO DREAM,” balance directness with whimsy. Anchored by a central text-based cut-out in the canvas, beginning with the words “I WANT,” each piece declares a wish—for peace, for boldness and beyond. Surrounding the negative space, Rosen has affixed eye-catching ephemera, from ticket stubs to advertising materials and even feathers and love letters. It’s a powerful display of organized chaos and there’s a captivating message at the exhibition core: do not be afraid to say what you want—and then pursue it. In light of the artist’s most recent addition to the show, made directly on the floors of colette, we spoke to him about process, inspiration and what it means to be in Paris right now.
What led to “I WANT” being the unifying factor to all these pieces?
The “I WANT” series—and my artist practice—began with a box of 800+ ticket stubs of concerts that I’ve been collecting for a period of 10 years. I was obsessed with going to shows because unknowingly I was vicariously living out my secret desire to be a rockstar through the musicians on stage. Unfortunately, I’m tone-deaf and I can’t play a lick of guitar, so the stubs became this false proof that the fantasy was reality. “I WANT TO BE A ROCKSTAR” and every “I WANT…” since then is a way for me to publicly tell on myself. When my dream is out of my head and into the world it has a much greater chance of being fulfilled—or, in some cases, to be completed, creating space for me to dream about something else.
How did you settle upon each individual dream and how do they represent your interests as well as collective interests?
I’ve been a big dreamer since I was a little kid. While this skill is a big factor that led me to the creative arts, I now believe that dreaming by myself is an impediment to those dreams becoming reality. So when I became aware of this, it was very easy to start to see all the desires I’ve been hiding and not allowing myself to truly have. In every exhibition, I look to explore a range of dream-types—from “I Want To Be A Winner,” that is born from insecurity of not wanting to be worthless; to “I Want To Fly,” where I long for something impossible; and “I Want To Be Found,” that represents my desire to be discovered by the art world. While my works come from some place very personal, I think they are universally resonant because “wanting” is very much a human truth.
How do you go about collecting and then committing to the ephemera used regarding each dream/piece of artwork? Can you talk some about your process in creating new works in general?
Unlike other artists, a good portion of my time is spent away from the canvas, sourcing materials. My early works started with personal collections—baseball cards, yearbook photos, love letters, etc—but now I borrow from the collections of others. It can take from a few weeks to over a year scouring eBay, Craigslist and flea markets to collect enough materials for a particular work.
In addition to constantly collecting, I’m always adding materials and desires to a list until I find a match for one another. I currently have 100+ text-material pairings planned for future works and, while I do repeat the text occasionally, I never duplicate the material in another artwork. The pieces that work best for me have multiple ways into it. First, through the big bold “I WANT…” headlines seen from afar and then with the materials that add another dimension to the text through play, irony, hope or hopelessness.
When was “I WANT PEACE” developed and how does it reflect Paris right now?
“I WANT PEACE” was originally scheduled to be in this exhibition using 15,000 neon orange foam earplugs as the material. Six weeks before my shipping deadline, I pulled the plug on it because it was an extremely laborious piece to make. Then the attacks happened six days before I arrived in Paris and my desire to celebrate quickly turned to wanting to contribute. Fortuitously, I already had the plexi-glass with “I WANT PEACE” laser-cut, and besides a brief scare of the airline losing it for a couple days, it made it safely to Paris. I didn’t know what material I would use until going to this amazing flea market called Marché aux Puces. There, I found 200 vintage postcards of Paris from pre/post WWI and WWII. The images immortalized Paris as this idyllic place, while the era in which these postcards are from remind us how fragile peace truly is.
Sarah Andelman, the owner of colette, insisted I make the work in the middle of the gallery floor. While, at first, I was shy being put on display, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in art. For the three days I was making the work, I interacted with many Parisians and came away inspired by their warmth, resilience and hope. The sale of ‘I WANT PEACE’ will benefit victim’s families through the Sweet Stuff Foundation.
Images courtesy of Jonathan Rosen