“Through the Windshield OTR: Recent Photographs by Jens Rosenkrantz, Jr.,” pretty much describes what’s on view at PAC Gallery, which is now open only by appointment.
Rosenkrantz has photographed the grotty Over the Rhine neighborhood in the rain through a car windshield. But instead of being gray and depressing, these photos are bright and upbeat.
Rosenkrantz says, “I look for the beauty of the everyday wherever I am whether it’s Europe, San Francisco, Miami, Charleston, or Downtown Cincinnati. There is beauty everywhere, even when taking a wrong turn on a rainy day and getting lost in OTR.”
But here I don’t see Rosenkrantz’s subject as the nabe, but rather rain, going from a hazy mist to heavy enough to blur vision to palpable droplets blown by wind across the windshield. To me his ostensible subject is just a means of exploring these effects.
Rosenkrantz’s view may be completely recognizable like “The Melting House” with its Hopper-like but woozy-looking house. In others, such as “Tree Shadows,” the scene is more difficult to read. And then, in the “Sideways Rain” and the “Psychedelic Doors” series, the scene is completely distorted and turned into a pure abstraction of yummy-colored shapes on a ground. Instead of the range of grays that you would expect, Rosenkrantz gives us cyan, cobalt, spring green, school bus yellow, etc.
The Boston-born now living in Cincinnati photographer describes himself as “uncluttered and unfettered from art classes and technical camera skills.” Nonetheless Rosenkrantz uses his medium effectively to reinforce the message.
Rosenkrantz’s archival prints in editions of four are mounted on aluminum panels and are insistently glossy, like glass. Their proportions of an extended rectangle, wider than high, are like looking through a windshield.
Size is also important. The largest ones — “Red Tail Lights #1” and “#2” — measure 34” x 60” and work best. Larger than reality, they create a field that “surrounds” the viewer.
Cue the exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum: “Monet in Giverny: Landscapes of Reflection.” Benedict Leca, the curator of European painting, sculpture, and drawings at the Museum, organized this exhibition of paintings dating from 1883, the year the painter moved to Giverny, to 1926, the year of his death.
Leca suggests that these 12 works be read as a visual diary of Monet’s evolution as a painter, going from an Impressionist capturing the ever-changing light of a scene to an artist interested in the making of the painting. He was no longer concerned with representing what he saw, and paint became material not just a vehicle for color.
Perspectival depth has been exchanged for the reality that the painting’s support is flat. Monet also creates fields of color that encompass the viewer.
Monet’s “Wisteria 1” and “2,” c. 1920, do exactly that. In the diptych intended to be installed above a cycle of water lily paintings, garlands of wisteria hang before a field of color, which might be water or air or both. The viewer is plunged into the composition and surrounded by it. Any sense of depth is gone.
Rosenkrantz’s two prints “Red Tail Lights #1” and “#2” correspond to Monet’s development. In the first the car may be turning at a stop sign, its tail light becoming a streak of light, a fuzzy record of passing time. But it also captures the phenomenon of seeing through the veil of rain and glass of the windshield.
There is another parallel with Monet’s late works. What is recognizable in the French artist’s earlier works, such as the 1895 twinned reflection of the Giverny garden’s Japanese footbridge, painted in 1895, has become an area of many-colored scumbled paint in his “Nympheas, Japanese Footbridge,” 1918-26.
In Rosenkrantz’s “Tail Lights #2,” the tail lights have become merely areas of color, no longer representing reality. Like Monet’s works, the photographer’s impressionistic view falls apart. Think of Monet’s cycle of Rouen Cathedral paintings of the 1890s where the solid church dissolves into nothing but a dream of itself.
In Rosenkrantz’s well-named “Psychedelic Doors #1, #2,” and “3,” the rectangles of color have the proportions of doors, but they float on a field of color. It’s a game of push-pull, reminiscent of Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann’s paintings.
I doubt very much if the photographer was aware of what I see as similarities. His acknowledged aesthetic aim was to document an Over the Rhine that confounds the perception that the neighborhood remains a rundown area, a little dangerous, and still waiting for the long-promised revival.
Rosenkrantz also confounds our perception of rain. His scenes are anything but dreary, and may represent hope for the ’hood.
“Through the Windshield OTR: Recent Photographs by Jens Rosenkrantz, Jr.,” PAC Gallery on view through March 2, 2012, at PAC Gallery, 2540 Woodburn Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45206, 513-235-4008, www.pacgallery.net.