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Creations spring from artist Rosen's mind

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- Josh Rosen's mind doesn't work the way yours does.

While your conversations might focus on a specific topic and have beginnings and endings, Rosen flits from idea to idea, his mind working so fast his words rarely ever keep up with his thoughts. And while those frantic conversations have a certain circular logic to them, eventually working themselves around to complete thoughts that he'd left behind long ago, until you catch the rhythm of Rosen's patter you can wear yourself out trying to keep up.

The beauty of Rosen the artist, though, is that where you look at a crumbling old house, a few items that have been collecting dust in the bottom of some closet or storage bin, a bunch of old rusty nails ... you see junk.

Rosen sees art.

And from the recesses of his creative mind, the Canadian-born, Albany-raised artist bends, twists and molds the household treasures that the normal among us would dismiss to his will and creates some of the most creative and intriguing pieces imaginable.

Rosen sculptures "The Rider Number 2," "Nuances," "Me Against Me," "Mer-Monster" and "The Pet," all of which are part of his Organica Exhibit on display now at the Albany Area Arts Council building at 215 N. Jackson St., perhaps best reflect his brilliance. The pieces, created from intricately carved pieces of wood, old scrap metal, wire brush bristles, and a collection of rusty nails and screws, are the visions of nightmarish fantasy filmmaker Tim Burton tried to capture in his classic "Nightmare Before Christmas."

"I was doing these pieces long before Tim Burton started doing the stuff he does," Rosen said. "I started making them 20 years ago. But I never considered them art. It was just something I did."

Rosen's "boom moment" came when he "picked up a big root in a yard" with the intention of eventually making something with it. Three years later, with time to devote to his idea, he finally started working with the wood and "freaked out" at what he saw.

"When I cut into that wood, I was amazed by the beautiful colors," the artist said. "I just freaked out. I started going around cutting random pieces of wood out of fences and dead trees. I got quite a collection."

Encouraged by friends and family members, Rosen brought some of the creatures his mind saw in the wood to life. He started with wooden angels and eventually followed the flow of his imagination in creating the creatures that haunted stories of his imagination.

On April 1, at a reception held at the old Carnegie Library, enamored art lovers bought 14 of Rosen's pieces, paying as much as $1,600 for some of the more intricate designs. And the area art community has been abuzz about Rosen's eclectic talent.

"Josh's exhibit reception was one of the biggest we've ever had here," Albany Area Arts Council Executive Director Deborah Loehr said. "His work is being extremely well-received in the community. Josh's creativity as a sculptor has no apparent boundaries.

"The use of recycled materials, the range of subject matter and the narrative expressed in each piece reflect an artist in touch with his environment and willing to examine conventional wisdom."

Born in Canada, Rosen "came home" to Albany when he was a year old and has lived here since. He left school during his senior year of high school, completed requirements for his GED and went to work managing the family-owned Container Waste Services for the next 18 years.

Bored with the work, Rosen started looking deeper into the visions he saw in the usual pieces of scrap metal and wood he found around the job.

Friend Anne Calhoun saw some of Rosen's early work and displayed wooden angels he created at her store in Cordele. Those sold well and quickly, and by the time Calhoun left the retail business to attend law school, Rosen had pocketed a little less than $20,000 for his work. He used that money to buy a home for his family.

Without a place to display and sell his works, Rosen stopped the creative process.

"It was no big deal," he said. "No one ever told me what I was doing was art. The stuff I do has always been trinkets to me."

Encouraged to go back to his art in 2000, Rosen entered some of his work in a show and won fourth place. He dabbled at his art over the next several years, never committing to it until he was encouraged to enter another competition last year. When his "Me Against Me" placed second and drew rave reviews from local art lovers, he started working to bring his visions to life.

"Everywhere Josh had a piece on display, people were intrigued by his work," Loehr said. "I've been watching him and watching how people reacted to his pieces for the last two years, and I encouraged him to put together an exhibit."

Rosen, 38, worked day and night to bring the Organica Exhibit to life, and the response to that show has been overwhelming. Adding to the whirlwind nature of his success, the artist was reunited with his estranged father Gary at the April 1 reception.

"I never lived with him or missed him, so it was no big deal," Rosen said. "But he wrote me and said he'd been through a life-changing event, and I wrote him back and told him I was grown now and willing to listen to his side of the story. I told him about the exhibit and about his two beautiful granddaughters, and he came in from Houston to the show.

"It was pretty cool."

His show successful beyond his wildest dreams and his art in demand, Rosen and long-time friends Bobby Lee Tipler and Jay Hiers are putting together a business plan to market Rosen's creations. Tipler is designing a website (thehandsthatmakethemonsters.com or .net) that will display the artist's works and other merchandise being planned.

And preliminary discussions are under way for additional exhibits.

"There is an ironic twist to all the characters I create, but the whole concept of my art is built around irony," Rosen said. "I grew up in houses and always visited places where there was the couch you couldn't sit on. I always heard, 'Don't play with that old metal, don't play with those sticks.'

"All that stuff I couldn't play with when I was growing up, all that stuff that everyone said was trash, that's now a part of my art. And the people who called it trash? They're paying me so they can put it in those houses where you can't sit on the couch."