August 1, 2002
Coming Out of the Dark
Entering the world of Joel Rothberg's art requires courage. His images are often unpleasant, and his current exhibition,"Etched in Darkness: The Graphic Art of Joel Rothberg," is no exception. But while his art is indeed graphic, both in style and in content, it is also quite intricate and the work of a true craftsman.
Divided by themes, the first wall of the exhibition displays Rothberg's "visionary works," as well as Holocaust-related print montages, relief etchings and drawings. Two self-portraits exemplify Rothberg's style. He stands isolated, surrounded by horrible beasts conjured out of a nightmare, carved out in fine white lines against a stark black background. His preoccupation with demonic monsters, death and alienation is apparent.
Equally bleak are Rothberg's Holocaust montages. Archival photos are lasered with relief etchings, creating a powerful effect. In "But of course ... this never happened," photographs of hangings and concentration camp sleeping quarters surround a large etching of a hard-faced, angry self-portrait.
The other wall is devoted to biblical images and drawings. In these, Rothberg focuses on man's relationship with God, drawing faces of fear and devotion. These works are tamer. Color comes into play, first, ever so slightly in his "Stars Over Moses," and then, in full-force in his newest works -- ketubah- and haggadah-inspired drawings.
While entering the world of his mind may seem scary, entering Rothberg's living room is downright cheery. Colorful paintings hang on his equally colorful walls. The color in his home, and in his newest works of art, hints at the artist as he is today. He has made peace with the demons of his etchings and now looks forward to working on his writing and photography. He explains simply, "I'm no longer in that place."