Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Christina Stock
The newest exhibit at the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC) features a work titled “Resonance” by Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) fellow Terri Rolland.
At RMAC, Rolland was putting last touches on her exhibit, checking the sparingly displayed paintings and the lighting. Her paintings are inviting, pulling the onlookers to step closer, to look and fall into the layered structure of the clay paint, a medium seldom used by artists, but so fitting to New Mexico and to the artist. Following the brush strokes with their stillness and echoing movement, the focus of each painting is on a single object in its pure abstract form.
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“As I’ve preceded through life as an artist — I am 66 now, so I’ve been an artist for 46 years — I’ve kept eliminating things, because I wanted to go towards a very elemental essence of what’s out there in terms of light and energy,” Rolland said. “So, they’ve (her paintings) become more and more minimal, but they are still very subjective. They are not in the sense of minimalism, which is an intellectual idea. These are more reduced to the essential kind of idea for what is minimal for me.
“People keep seeing that adobe style,” she said. “For me these are almost like a storefront you would see in Roswell. My work shifted a bit from before. I thought when I came here, when I wrote my proposal, I imagined that I would make paintings that are about humans interfaced with the land, industry, agriculture, because mostly my references to land have been more wide open, very beautiful, left alone places.
“I came to Roswell, what’s here in terms of land, what’s different? I’ve been down to Big Bend a couple of times and done work related to that place. I often go camping and do work related to the desert, a beautiful open space. The spaces here are beautiful, but there is more human interface and there is to some degree more destruction. So I thought I would do some work about that to some degree, and, weirdly, I feel like Roswell is in these paintings in many ways, the work actually became much more internal,” Rolland said.
Growing up, Rolland moved a lot with her family. Her father was in the Navy. Returning to her mother’s hometown, Philadelphia, Rolland found her calling.
“I came from a family with six kids,” Rolland said. “My cousins, everybody, just stayed in Philadelphia and came from there. I was raised Catholic. I went to Catholic school as a kid (the) first six years. I wanted to be a nun. I wanted to be very good, living a very good life. Of course, I didn’t believe in that soon after, once I got into high school. It always felt to me being an artist is like being a nun or a saint because it’s a vocation, not just a job. Whether it’s a calling or whether it is something you practice for a good reason or something besides yourself, it always was very related to me. I never came at it (art) because I was so special or because I wanted to have a career. I wanted to have a life that was about introspection, about relating to the natural world and this St. Francis kind of experience. I feel like, as I move through my life, I came closer and closer to that.”
Rolland said that her being grounded in a working-class family meant that she always was working jobs next to her art.
“I worked as a carpenter, I worked as a bar tender, I worked as a house painter and I worked as a professor, a teacher at the university. I’ve done the hard scrabble, kind of rough — because I believe in it. It’s survival, but I also wanted to have a life, I didn’t just want to have a career. In the ’70s, artists weren’t going to graduate schools. They didn’t have that. It was just starting to be a thing, where suddenly you thought about yourself in a careerist way. For me, I wanted to be in a life and see how that would bring me being an artist into a relationship somehow,” she said.
First in her family to graduate from a college, Rolland received her bachelor of fine arts from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia.
“I was a young feminist,” she said. “It was the early/mid ’70s, and it felt good and empowering to go to an all-women’s college. Also it was problematic because all of my teachers were men. It taught us, you still have to agitate to get the right things to happen. I was always a bit of an activist as a young person all the way through, as a feminist, as a queer activist, as eco-activist. I have been involved in political stuff a lot.
Rolland said that she moved to New Mexico in 1990.
“I wanted to get out of the city. I had visited here once and had fallen in love with the land, like many of us have. But for me, as a painter, everything was just so alive here. And I can finally see color, which I couldn’t see in the city. All there is is brown and green. And so, the title of the show is ‘Resonance.’ It is about color, it is about vibrational kind of activity, or energy, that goes on between sky and land, sky and ground.
“I was going to make political paintings, which I never succeeded at and I’ve finally given it up. You can be a political person and you can make pure abstract paintings. You have to make the paintings that you make. You can’t control it that much,” Rolland said.
“In a weird way, because I had so much pure time at the studio at the residence (RAiR), I feel that this work has become quite more suggestive and somewhat more of an internal space, but still related to what I see down here for sure. You can almost see a mesa image in some of these, but then I turn these around a lot — showing in a simple way what is Southwestern landscape, just with a certain shape. I feel there are some structural things here that are not just about land, but they are still in the world, in weather, in time, in light, in a season,” Rolland said.
Rolland said that her work reflects roughness of life as opposed to a refined life, and her encounters camping alone in the desert feed into her art and are essential to her life and work. She said that, only about 15 years ago, she finally found a medium that could capture what she wanted to express in her art. Among her influences are fresco paintings that she encountered while studying art in Rome.
“I don’t want to make shiny paintings,” Rolland said. “I wanted this kind of surface that is accessible, that there is not just a layer of glaze or reflection. I used to work with oil paint. Then I changed to acrylics and I was able to get a bit more of a matte surface, but it never quite (felt) right. And then I discovered this product (clay paints). I feel really lucky that I finally found the right medium, the right material, and then I finally figured out what the material wants to do. You know you are looking at something flat, a surface, but you can still get transparencies and a build-up. I think I finally got this material really to work for me. It allows for a lot of different subtleties as well. It is just a matter of learning the material and finding how it wants to behave.”
“I feel sometimes like everything we’re looking at is a screen, a shiny screen. I’ve been thinking this lately — as the world has gotten faster and louder and shinier, my work has gotten slower and quieter and more matte. It is partly because I am rejecting the culture to a certain degree,” Rolland said and chuckled.
Asked how onlookers should approach her art, Rolland said, “Look at the painting like a painter looks at the painting. We all want that. Every painter wants that. These paintings, they ground me and ground my nervous system, which is a necessary thing to be a human being today, and it’s really difficult.”
Rolland said that she is planning to stay in Roswell for a while. “I love it here. I didn’t know what I was getting into; you just don’t know. There is the residence, which is its own beautiful bubble with artists from all around the world. And then there is the town. I met people at the dog park and I met people in other places and I love it. It’s really a good place. But this museum and the art community is substantial,” Rolland said.
Rolland is a 2020 Pollock Krasner Foundation grantee. She also received a grant from the Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation (2008) and from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts in 1988. She has been an artist-in-resident at Ucross Foundation, MacDowell and Jentel. She has taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and at Pennsylvania State University. Her work has been widely reviewed, including twice in the magazine “Art in America.”
The exhibit “Resonance” will be up until Jan. 2, 2022, at RMAC, 1011 N. Richardson Ave. For more information about the artist, visit terrirolland.com.