COLOR CONVERSATION with LEAH ROSENBERG painter + pastry chef
I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Rosenberg at her inspiring studio in the Mission, San Francisco.
Leah received a BFA from Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2003, and went on to get an MFA from the California College of the Arts, in San Francisco, in 2008. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Art Moves, Poland; the Sarasota Art Center, Sarasota, Florida; and the Golden Pavilion, Hamburg.
Leah was the Creative Director for Color Factory San Francisco and New York. Ever the color scout she completed the artist-in-residence program at Recology in the Bay Area using paint from the Household Hazardous Waste Facility.
Her innate understanding of color and the way she uses it so powerfully is a reflection of her depth and her warmth.
Laura Guido-Clarck: CAN YOU SHARE A SIGNIFICANT COLOR MEMORY OR YOUR FIRST COLOR MEMORY?
Leah Rosenberg: I grew up in Canada, in Saskatchewan. It is interesting to me that my brother and I ended up in California. When you ask me about a first color memory I refer to the landscape of my childhood. There was a prairie and one horizon line. There was a blue sky. I remember the hot pink sunsets and northern lights with bright, bright greens. It was like a canvas I was waiting to fill. It continually resets and allows for my imagination to fill it.
I also have a fond memory of maroon, it was a color that was around a lot when I was growing up.
Then there is No Name, a Canadian brand, I have memories of the yellow-colored styrofoam of their egg cartons, and packaging.
LG-C: WHICH ONE OF YOUR SENSES ASIDE FROM SIGHT DO YOU MOST ASSOCIATE WITH COLOR?
LR: It is definitely taste and flavor. I wrote my thesis on the artistic possibilities of cake. I went to graduate school for painting, and I had worked on the same set of paintings the whole year because I felt that laboring over the same paintings would reveal something. Then, I had a revelation that if the point of being in grad school is the moment you receive feedback, then I need to leave the studio and see if I could create something else that could lend itself to expanding my technique. I was working at Miette (bakery) at the time, doing packaging, but I took cake decorating classes, and I would end up with these full cakes and bring them to the critiques…
Everyone loved the cakes, the cakes created a response! The students were delighted, and it made me really want to elicit the same response in my artwork. There is an end to a cake, but there wasn’t to painting. Cake had a beginning and an end. Paintings are more timeless. They hang around, get stored, and so I began to ask the question, If I am making both with the same intention, why do I get such different responses from cake versus art?
People associate food differently than art. So I asked myself the question: what ingredients do I put into my cakes, and the answer was that I felt generosity was a big part of it. I love to make things. Food became a good medium to understand process and technique. It led me to a job that didn’t exist before. I created pastries for SF MOMA to serve along with the artwork. Cake made me see things in 3 dimensions, it was different than my art. I always wanted to give something to the person who saw my artwork, and the kitchen became my platform to express that. I read this book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde. In essence, he felt that a gift must continue to move, like potlucks, trades, exchanges, new kinds of currencies. So I asked myself, can painting do what cake can? Can you make a generous painting… maybe that would be all the colors, but all colors are my choice. I am still dictating the choice. Instead, I asked what if I sent a survey to the graduate students in my class and created four colors a person and made striped paintings for all of them. I love painting stripes. They are a simple way to convey solidity and a sense of steadiness. They are a record, and for me, a way of preserving a color.
LG-C: WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH COLOR?
LR: I think about the film about Basquiat. When he is on the basketball court, Julian Schnabel repeats, “you are going to keep making this work, and keep making this work, and keep making this work.” It stuck with me. I do my projects, and I don’t even know how to talk about them until they are done. I need the interaction of people to understand when it is finished. My grad school instructor said color did for me what church does for other people. I need it to connect and reconnect. Actually, I am in deep relationship with color. I have this process because it is the only way I move on. I am always thinking of how my art will translate, and I sometimes think if I don’t consider everything, it will deny people pleasure. I also ask, If your entire pursuit is generosity, at what point does it present itself at your own detriment?
I also want to mention that collaboration is very satisfying. My work is made better because of the people I work with. I learned something by working in the kitchen. There was an order to my day, but my studio gets messy and chaotic. You see, in the kitchen, I was more organized. So I try to take some of the processes of the kitchen to the studio and vice versa.
LG-C: CAN YOU SHARE SOMETHING YOU SAW LATELY THAT WAS COLOR CAPTIVATING?
LR: I have traveled quite a bit lately. I went to Finland. I was struck by the architect Alvar Aalto. I was taken by his thoughtfulness. I began to think about how one singular expression can become someone's signature, like his door handles. It wasn’t branding. It was thoughtful. He understood how different people would use the door knob. Again for me, there was a generosity in Alvar Aalto’s work. You could feel his generous spirit. It made me think about space a lot in terms of color, I feel it is important to be in the moment.
In Stockholm, I remember thinking they have their own palette, blueberries everywhere, everyone is wearing mustard yellow. We also drove from Barcelona to Bilbao. I was captivated with the earth and the colors of the pigment in the caves, the iron red, and black.
So right now, I am a swirl of all these old forgotten colors. Sometimes life gets too busy, and you must stop and take in the color.