Archive for March 23, 2012

Artist Claudia Alvarez’s new exhibition considers immigration

March 23, 2012 4 comments

I met and profiled artist Terry Rosenberg a few years ago but I never got to meet his life partner and fellow artist, Claudia Alvarez, until quite recently.  Years apart, each came to Omaha for a Bemis Center for the Contemporary Arts residency – he in 1982 and she in 2005 – and each found the city to be a nurturing place for their work.  Terry made Omaha his second home, commuting between here and New York City.  Then Claudia came and the two found each other.  They reside in New York City now but keep a place in the Old Market in Omaha and get back enough to maintain a strong presence here.  My profile of Claudia below keys off a new exhibit of her work dealing with immigration.  She and Terry are among the many artists and creatives from elsewhere who have infused Omaha with talent and energy.  You can find my profile of Terry and his work on this blog as well.  You’ll also find a story I did on the Bemis Center.  Look for a coming depth story on Bemis founders Ree (Schonlau) Kaneko and her superstar artist husband Jun Kaneko and a much shorter, sampler story about the Kanekos.  Their “Open Space for Your Mind” organization, KANEKO, and the multimedia Portals project that premiered there is the subject of yet another story.





Artist Claudia Alvarez’s new exhibition considers immigration

©by Leo Adam Biga

Published in El Perico


For years Claudia Alvarez has created ceramic figures of beleaguered children as a metaphor for exploring social themes of poverty and violence. For a new solo exhibition in Omaha she uses childlike images to examine the experience of immigration and migration she knows first-hand..

The Monterrey, Mexico native came to the States at age 3 with her mother and siblings. Her father preceded the family to America. She grew up in Calif., where she earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of California Davis and her master’s from California College of Arts. Working as an ambulance driver for UC Davis Medical Center, she transported seriously ill children and seniors,, who in turn inspired her ceramic figures that look old and tired, yet resilient.

A Bemis Center for Contemporary Art residency brought her to Omaha in 2005, where she met her life partner, artist Terry Rosenberg. The couple now reside in New York but they retain deep ties to Omaha, where they’ve been two of the brightest lights on the local art scene.

“We still have a place here in the Old Market and we come quite a bit and work here. There’s something about Omaha that brings us back,” says Alvarez, which is why she readily accepted an invitation to show her work at the new Gallery of Art and Design at Metropolitan Community College’s Elkhorn Valley Campus, 204th and West Dodge Road. Admission is free.

Her History of Immigration runs through April 9 and is part of a Metro residency she did. She’s previously exhibited at the Bemis and El Museo Latino in Omaha, the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney.

“When I came to the Bemis Center it just dramatically changed my life. For the first time I had an infrastructure that really supported my work,” says Alvarez. “It was a life changing experience. Before that I was teaching at a university and when I got accepted by the Bemis I quit my job. I thought I would be staying three-four months and then move on. But I met Terry and that was it. Everything kind of worked out.”

©from Claudia Alvarez’s History of Immigration 



Living in New York and having strong connections to Nebraska and California makes Alvarez bicoastal and intercoastal. As a Mexico native with a great curiosity for the world, she’s a global citizen. She exhibits widely. She did a recent residency in Puerto Vallarta. Other residencies have taken her to France, Switzerland and China. She has shows opening in Mexico City, San Diego, Brooklyn and Miami.

Residing in the cultural melting pot of New York and being so well-traveled gives her a broader view of immigration as a universal human experience. Her Omaha exhibition uses sculpted children’s shoes and waif-like immigrant figures along with paintings of her and her family’s arrival in America to express the longing and struggle of people trekking from one land to another. Bound up in the work are notions of travel, escape, exhaustion, destination, assimilation, exile, refugee. The shoes bear the worn qualities of a journey made and a life lived.

“I’m really talking about immigration on a human universal level, so that hopefully different types of people can relate to this issue. We all have our journey. There’s a history, there’s the fingerprint. When I make the shoes I make them in porcelain and with my fingers I put the indentations where the toes and the sole are. I really work intuitively and try to make them very childlike, so they evoke emotions of innocence and memory. Each shoe has had its own history or past.”

©from Claudia Alvarez’s History of Immigration 



Her immigrants could be anywhere, anytime.

“One is a little girl squatting in red underwear, with about 50 shoes scattered and somehow moving in the same direction. Then there’s two standing figures that appear to be walking forward in a big open space. In the corner is a cowboy boot on its side, with holes underneath it. They all reference immigration in some way. Some of them reflect really personal things, like my own childhood memories.

“The two figures walking forward are a very subtle insinuation. It’s how the simple act of stepping forward can mean so many things. It means a lot, for example, to Mexicans, who step forward for a better life, and really to any group of people that need to step forward and move forward in some way.”

Alvarez’s two paintings are drawn from her own life. The self-portrait “Green Card” is based on a photo of herself as an American newcomer. The other is taken from a photo of her newly arrived immigrant family.



©”Green Card” by Claudia Alvarez, from her History of Immigration



Being in New York with its many vibrant, self-enclosed cultural enclaves has shown her that immigration doesn’t have to mean giving up one’s identity. As an immigrant herself she says it’s inevitable she dealt with the subject and she expects to explore the nature of ethnicity in future work.

“I’m really interested in the power of words and how one simple word like immigration is so loaded with meaning. It can bring out so many different reactions from people.”

She avoids overt images, preferring viewers to find their own meanings in her work.

“The more I simplify my work the more powerful it can be. It’s OK that people interpret it in different ways. It should evoke questions, reactions and dialogue.”

View Alvarez’s show during normal gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday Noon to 5 p.m. Visit her website at

For artist Terry Rosenberg, the moving human body offers canvas like no other

March 23, 2012 4 comments

Once in a while I visit an artist’s studio for a story.  Abstract painter Terry Rosenberg, who now resides in New York City after making Omaha his second home for a few decades, still keeps his loft studio in Omaha’s Old Market.  His is the prototypical artist’s work-living space with lots of nautral light, a high ceiling, and a rough-hewn, industrial feel to the environment heighented by exposed brick and venting that’s softened somewhat by his work materials, his ktichen, and his bed.  It’s a place overbrimming with creative energy.  He originally came to Omaha from New York for a workshop at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and its world-renowned artist residency program.  Between Bemis founder Ree Schonlau and other artists growing the cultural scene here he felt at home enough to set some roots down here.  Years later he met his partner in life, artist Claudia Alvarez, when she came to do a Bemis residency.  The couple reside in New York now but they still keep their place here, and both return to do work and to exhibit and to catch up with friends here.  Rosenberg’s work capturing the human body in motion is the focus of this story for The Jewish Press.  I wrote it about five years ago.  I am also posting a new story on his mate, Alvarez, about a new exhibition of work in which she deals with the experience of immigration.  Terry and Claudia are two reasons why Omaha’s arts-cultural scene has become dynamic.

For artist Terry Rosenberg the moving human body offers a canvas like no other

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Jewish Press


When he draws or paints bodies in motion, from dancers performing turns to ballplayers swinging bats, he sees things the rest of us miss. His intense focus enables him to see “more acutely or deeply” the complex kinesthetic, aesthetic, spatial dynamics of people moving in “highly concentrated ways.”

Terry Rosenberg, who commutes between Omaha and New York City, strives to capture not so much a frozen moment in time as the apogee of myriad moments.  “What I’m doing is giving you kind of a still image at the end,” he said from his spacious, white, Old Market studio, “but the still image is of several moments. It’s of an event that’s happened and it’s a culmination of marks that kind of map an event.”

Rosenberg, a Hartford, Connecticut, native who grew up in Miami,  and studied art there and in western New York state, first came to Omaha in 1982 for a workshop conducted by Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts founder Ree Schonlau.

By then he was living in NYC and already finding he sometimes needed to get away. “If you live in New York you just have to go somewhere else regularly. You just have to,” he said.

He and Schonlau became friends and in 1984 he came back to do an extended Bemis residency. That experience convinced him to make Omaha his second home, which he has for two decades. “It’s all about the Bemis,” he said. “I had a lot fun. It was like summer camp all year long. I have friends here and because I have so much history here, Omaha was just the natural place to come to outside of New York.”

The basis for all his art is drawing, but he’s also worked in sculpture and other forms. Much of his work the last 15 years has been consumed with moving bodies.

As models perform gestures, assume positions, take steps, execute leaps, none predetermined or posed, Rosenberg is right there in the swirl of it all, close enough to feel the rush of air from a ballerina’s pirouette or a batter’s follow through. Moves happen rapidly, spontaneously in front of him, whether in the rehearsal hall, the studio, the batting cage or the gym. “It’s wildly dynamic,” he said. To follow the model, he remains “structureless.”

Often, he must attend to multiple bodies moving around him. So much happens at once, yet he’s intent on rendering on paper or canvas these swift, ephemeral, ever-changing actions as they unfold and as he experiences them. The resulting images have a visceral, primal, sensual immediacy.
“It’s instinctual for sure,” he said.

In these sensory-laden sessions, he enters a zone where he becomes one with the subject. The rhythm of his applying charcoal, graphite, pastel, not with sticks or brushes, but with saturated sock or glove-covered hands and arms, is matched in synch with the model’s movements.

“It’s very physical,” he said.

© Terry Rosenberg 2003
Subdermal, Mark Jarecke 2002, Oil on Linen



“The tools of painting are not designed for speed,” he said, “and I keep trying to find better ways to make a painting where I don’t have to stop and look at the palette and reload on occasion, but where I can kind of keep going.” As so much goes on with such speed in a compressed period of time he can’t reproduce dance or sport in any conventional sense. Rather, his energetic lines, daubs, marks and splays are the visual equivalent of automatic writing. By eye to hand he charts the energy flows, thermal traces and physical essences of artists/athletes executing graceful, explosive, yet always expressive moves. “If there’s any strategy I have used it’s to try to stay in the present, always. I don’t want to go to memory. I don’t want to stop and go, What happened six minutes ago? What happened six seconds ago? I try to show the constant change in front of me. I’m drawing the thing that’s usually not able to be drawn,” he said.

The body reveals so many things and a body in motion is a combination of all the psychological and emotional and physical systems working at once, and I’m trying to draw that combination …It gives you a different reading than what you’re used to seeing, one that’s more interesting and profound to me. And it’s different art historically as well.”

Technical issues arise from his method of repeatedly applying paint to the same areas. “Colors start to mix up quickly and turn to mud when you keep going over the same area,” he said.

Most often his subjects are modern dance or classical ballet. He’s done work based on observations of such renowned companies as the Mark Morris Dance Group, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the American Ballet Theatre and the Kirov Ballet. He’s done studies, too, of Ballet Omaha and Chomari, the resident dance troupe at El Museo Latino. Then there’s his work with athletes, notably of the New York Yankees taking batting practice. He’s now preparing a series on University of Nebraska-Omaha wrestlers.

He also makes images of individuals. He’s done a series on Indian dancer Aparna Ramaswamy, a leading master of Bharatanatyam, as well as on an Omaha yoga practitioner and a New York actress.

Most of his works are titled after the names of the models he used. After all, he said, his images “are much like portraits, but just different kinds of portraits.”

Rosenberg’s bodies-in-motion work is widely exhibited and collected. In an unusual coincidence his work can now be seen in three solo Nebraska shows.

Through Aug. 31 at El Museo Latino, 4710 So. 25 St., is Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, drawings of Chomari’s festive, high energy dance suites. Through Aug. 17 in the Fred Simon Gallery at the Nebraska Arts Council, 1004 Farnam St., is Asanas — drawings of yoga mistress Adrienne Posey assuming meditative postures of her discipline. Also through Aug. 17 at the Governor’s mansion in Lincoln, 1425 ‘H’ St., is a set of four paintings of actress Meredith Napolitano in the throes of dramatic Method acting exercises.

©More works by Terry Rosenberg

The diverse expressions displayed in these shows confirm Rosenberg’s interest in looking for new forms of movement that challenge and fascinate him. For him, it’s all about engaging subjects without agenda, distraction or art historical reference.

“I call what I do highly focused abandon. I definitely have to be in a ‘screw-it’ mentality…in the sense everything goes out the window that I know,” he said. If he’s after anything, it’s the fluid, instant-by instant catharsis of change.

“I think when the body moves we’re in this kind of transitional mode. We’re unraveling, if you will, and the unraveling speaks as much of life as it does of death. It speaks of that place of change which people are freaked out about or exhilarated about,” he said. “The nature of what I’m drawing is just that — it’s the body in constant change and it’s provocative in a certain way of that fleeting moment. Life is happening and it’s dying at the same moment, and in the next moment, more life and death..

“The unraveling makes the body more transparent in a way. You see more facets of it. I find it emotionally and formally stimulating.”
He’s so attuned to what transpires in a live drawing session, he said, “it’s almost like time stops. Sometimes the act of drawing takes me into this place we call the moment of creation. It’s almost like I’m in some sub-atomic place. The creative act, if you’re open to it, creates things you never really expected to happen and that I find interesting and curious.”

From eye to hand, he translates the beauty and mystery of what he sees and feels.

“I find the hand is such an extended part of your internal world, like touch and speech,” he said. “It gives you access to a certain kind of voice.”

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