Minneapolis artist Gregory Rose visits Ridgewater College to talk about trauma, community and art
Minneapolis artist Gregory Rose in a visit to Willmar shared how art can be a way to confront trauma, build community and look different at the world.
WILLMAR — At first glance, the pictures hanging in the Ridgewater College art gallery on the Willmar campus might seem like colorful and exuberant examples of mixed-media modern art. But after one hears from the artist, Gregory J. Rose, the stories behind the canvases can come to life and they're full of trauma, community and various ways of looking at a diverse world.
"Your story is more complex and more diverse than you think your simple story is," Rose said. "I want you to think deeper and go through the layers."
Rose spoke about his art and the stories behind it during a talk Jan. 19 at Ridgewater. An exhibit of his art, "Out of the Dark and Into the Light," will be on display at the college's art gallery through Feb. 17, open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
"I hope the audience opens their mind to an experience," Rose said. "I want it to be a conversation."
Rose himself has much to talk about. Originally from Philadelphia, Rose was only a child when the 1985 MOVE bombing took place, not far from where he was living. Police used explosives to bomb a house occupied by members of the organization. The ensuing fire killed 11 — six adults and five children — and destroyed dozens of homes in the residential neighborhood. It had a marked impact on not only him but also his community.
"Imagine you are 10 years old and thinking you are going to get blown up. That was my reality," Rose said. "That ingrains trauma. That ingrains a psychology and a philosophy that you are always on 'fight or flight,' you are always surviving. Chemistry isn't going to matter if you're not here tomorrow."
Another trauma that impacted Rose was the unsolved murder of his uncle, a man he credits for keeping Rose out of trouble as a youth. Then, when Rose purchased his home in Minneapolis, he found himself living only blocks from the site of the George Floyd and Jamar Clark killings and often driving past the location of the Philando Castile killing.
"That is a lot of stress, a lot of death," Rose said. "I felt that George's death propelled what was underneath to the surface — all the anger, all the frustration, the unanswered questions and the angst. And it came out across the world."
Rose has addressed those traumas in his work, including the pieces in the Ridgewater exhibit. "The Vulture" addresses the death of his uncle, a way for Rose to speak about the trauma but not trigger the rest of his family. Rose said he uses his art as a way for people to process and face trauma and hopefully get to a point where they can move past it.
"That is not necessarily something you want to be carrying. That is something you might have to deal with, it might be your reality, but it is not something you want to be carrying," Rose said. "At some point we have to figure out how to move through it."
Rose has also started using art, both his and pieces from other artists, as a way to illustrate, build and experience community from diverse backgrounds.
"You start working through some of that stuff, you start communicating across barriers and across borders," Rose said.
In 2018, Rose participated in the Global Art Project VII that took place in Senegal, Africa. It was the first time he had ever been to Africa and it moved him, both as a man and an artist.
"As a Black man in America, you know how I felt first time over the ocean, off the coast of the motherland? Crying, you all," Rose said. "Beautiful, beautiful moment."
The Global Art Project, over the years, has brought hundreds of mixed-media artists from dozens of countries together to make art both individually and together. The residency program has been held in several different countries, where the artists are able to immersive themselves in the local culture. Rose said it provides artists a chance to test their artistic limits and experiment.
"Break the rules. Use ketchup and soda. Why do you have to use paint?" asked Rose, who made a piece using coffee and graphite when at GAP VII. "Try different stuff, see what happens."
The Global Art Project is also a great example of the importance of travel, not just for artists. Rose urged the Ridgewater students to use their money for travel instead of the latest electronic gadget or vehicle. Travel not only broadens the mind but also can create opportunities, connections, options and different perspectives.
"You are going to get a lot more out of travel," Rose said. "You'd be surprised how loving the world is than what they teach you."
From that trip to Africa, Rose was inspired to create a show that focused on the underrepresented Black abstract artists from the Midwest. He curated the exhibit "Take Root Among the Stars," held at the Soo Visual Arts Center in Minneapolis this past summer. Artists from around the country contributed pieces that represented the Black experience.
Rose wanted the exhibit to showcase how important it is to invest in not only the Black artistic community, but also Indigenous, other people of color, woman and various minority communities.
"Most of the good stuff did not come from dead European guys, I hate to tell you all," Rose said.
With his art, Rose hopes to challenge people's preconceptions of not only modern art, but also of different cultures, races and experiences. He wants people to question and challenge their own lives.
"I am trying to question, culturally, our reality," Rose said.
Rose likes to play with both the simplicity and complexities of art, which can be found throughout art history. For example, Rose's piece "Pigs Feet and Ox Tails" is a discussion around cultural and religious differences.
"Pollock just didn't throw paint," Rose said.
Rose has found that art is a good way to engage difficult and controversial ideas because it can be done in a way that isn't so direct or hard-hitting. It is also an opportunity for different viewpoints to be given the spotlight.
"I'm literally telling you I am messing with people, but it is in a proper, healthy way," Rose said. "I would rather mess with them this way, where they question their world and change for the better, than me feeling like I have to fight and get violent."