Painting Abstractly in the Midst of Unending Crises

Alyse Rosner, “Untitled (red 2)” (2009), acrylic and ink on raw pine, signed in pencil on the verso, 5 1/2 x 6 inches (courtesy Rick Wester Fine Art)

“A Quieter Battle” measures 78 by 202 inches, or 6 1/2 by nearly 17 feet. Dated 2021, the work was done on raw canvas during the pandemic. Its layers and clusters of parallel lines, in yellow, white, violet, and dark crimson, both straight and swirling — like streamers and ribbons — rising, descending, and traversing the canvas, against a stained ground of salmon and pale purple, convey a maelstrom. Its panoramic scale becomes a world, at once abstract and yet suggestive of something real in our life. 

I saw “A Quieter Battle” in the exhibition Alyse Rosner: Trusting the River at Rick Wester Fine Art (May 6–July 2, 2021). It was only later that I understood that I was not completely off track. After looking at this and other works, I read the artist’s statement, which included this paragraph: 

When I began these paintings, the wildfires raged in California and I spoke frequently with my sister who lives there and dealt with the toxic air quality daily. Like the coronavirus, wildfires don’t choose their victims. They attack indiscriminately and present an unpredictable threat. 

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