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Wednesday, December 3,2008

Character development

Exhibit tells stories in statues and dolls

by Mary C. Cusack
Jane Rosemont has the kind of career that makes an amateur fine art photographer salivate. Professional digital equipment? Check. A phenomenal eye for composition? Check. The ability to travel to exotic locations? Oh, yes.

But even better (or worse, if you’re that envious wannabe), Rosemont is a genuine person with a sparkling personality, an artist who loves to talk openly about her art, ideas and techniques. Where some artists refuse to divulge personal motivations or professional secrets, Rosemont effervesces with enthusiasm while talking about her work.

A natural creative type with the skills to back her self-assuredness, it would be easy for Rosemont to fall into the trap of egocentricism that befalls many artists who have had her level of success. After all, this is the woman who had the confidence to publish a book of portraits that included legendary musicians like David Byrne and Marshall Crenshaw, as well as a self-portrait taken after her mastectomy. Yet Rosemont focuses outwardly, acting as a vehicle that allows her subjects to share their own stories.

Rosemont’s work juxtaposes playfulness with true, often literal, depth of character. Her latest Lansing exhibit, “A Cast of Characters,” combines work from different series that share affinities.

The show’s title seems accurate, but some characters undoubtedly monopolize the exhibit. Those attention hogs come from Rosemont’s “Secret Keepers” series. Rosemont launched the series several years ago, but began to seriously pursue it in the last year and a half. Digital photographs printed on canvas, the works feature vibrant, almost invasively personal portraits of dolls. Some are familiar and warm, some hauntingly creepy. All are unique.

Each doll has a story, some known and some that will forever remain a mystery. “Jacob,” a handmade doll from Germany, came with a handwritten tale attached to his arm. “Bunny” was an odd find in an antique mall.

“Ann” has many stories. As the most recognizable doll, this version of Raggedy Ann will cause many to reminisce about their own beloved doll, but the state of this particular specimen brought up a very personal story in one viewer. “It made him cry, because it made him think of his mother who has Alzheimer’s,” Rosemont says. “The heart is pure. It says ‘I Love You’, but she’s obviously damaged.”

Indeed, the doll with the intact heart but damaged head could certainly be a symbol for the ravages of the disease. Meaning is in the eye of the beholder, and Rosemont is open to, and even fascinated by, the stories viewers brings to her work.

The other, subtler works in the exhibit deserve attention as well. Pieces from the “Isn’t It Iconic?” series highlight the personalities of religious iconography from around the world. These statues are more than recreations of the icons they symbolize; Rosemont finds ways of exposing something very human in them.

Taking advantage of a spectacular angle, Rosemont captured a very intimate moment between statues of Mary and Joseph. Lovingly (and accurately) titled “Mary and Joseph Nuzzling,” the photograph makes a good Catholic girl feel like she just walked in on her parents making out. The piece makes one realize that a good title can be half the battle in creating meaningful art.

Despite the difference in style and purpose between the religious icons and the dolls, Rosemont believes they have a lot in common. “They’re both old, they’re both imperfect. They’re cracked. Nothing is more boring to me than perfection,” Rosemont laughs.

Having recently returned from an artistically and emotionally charged photo excursion to India, Rosemont’s mind is a blur of present projects and future ideas. While capturing 2,800 shots of the brilliantly colored lives and landscapes of India, Rosemont was still drawn to continue her “Secret Keepers” series.

“I found a doll in India,” Rosemont says, a gleeful look in her eyes. “It was in the dirt, and it was stepped on, and it was really wrecked,” she continues, turning those attributes a selling point for saving the piece and bringing it home. The trip was “Worth it just for that.”

And no matter the cost of a three-week trip to India, the joyful look on Rosemont’s face indicates she’s not exaggerating. One more character will have a chance to share its story because of Rosemont’s keen eye.

‘A Cast of Characters’

Works of Jane Rosemont
Through Dec. 14
Creole Gallery, 1218 Turner St., Lansing
Reception: 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. Dec. 14
Hours: 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Saturday & Sunday
(517) 487-9549
www.creolegallery.com

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