Where art, commerce collide

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

ALBANY -- What a difference a little time and a large dose of self-awareness can make.

In 2010, Josh Rosen was eking out a living as a plumber, working with his hands to keep customers' water flowing.

Rosen's still working with his hands, but now he's creating artwork that is in ever-growing demand. And after being lauded at one of Albany's most well-attended and successful artist receptions in recent memory on April Fool's Day, the 38-year-old -- going on 15 -- iconoclast has made a sea change in his life that has him and his close circle of family and friends excited about what the future may hold.

"Yeah, a year ago I was plumbing," Rosen said during a recent visit to his 12th Avenue home. "But not any more. I don't plan on putting my hands in other people's (filth) ever again.

"From now on I'll use my hands to create art."

Encouraged by the overwhelming support for his unique organic sculptures, Rosen, friend-since-kindergarten Bobby Lee Tipler and wife, Ivy, have created Mad Girl Apparel, an (initially) online clearinghouse for the clothing, jewelry and other creations that spring from the recesses of Rosen's mind.

The inspiration for the wonderful Mad Girl logo that is starting to show up on T-shirts throughout the region? The Rosens' older daughter, Kohdi Frances, then 5, whose expression is "Mad Girl" personified. (Her now 5-year-old sister Endi Anchell's likeness will appear on future designs.)

"Kohdi was in her dance tutu for pictures, but she was aggravated about something," the proud papa says. "When we got the pictures back, she had the meanest expression on her face. Her grandmother said, 'We're not buying these,' but I loved them and bought every one of them.

"Kohdi loves seeing her image on our clothing. She's told me before, 'Dad, I might look like mama, but I think like you.'"

Rosen and Tipler -- well, mostly Tipler, he's the computer brains of the outfit -- are working with designers to put the finishing touches on a website (thehandsthatmakethemonsters.com or .net) that will allow patrons to buy high-quality Mad Girl T-shirts (already available for $27.50) and other fashion accessories, such as hand-crafted jewelry and handbags.

The high-tech site also has photos of Rosen's sculptures that are for sale and will soon offer a set of seven signed prints of the works that have been sold.

"This is going to be an amazing site when we're finished," business manager Tipler said. "You'll be able to click on each finger of the hands on the site and go to a different aspect of our enterprises.

"We invite everyone to check out the site and see what we've got. There is a contact number for Josh that we're using right now until the site is finished. People can call to purchase an item from the site or talk with him about a special design for (fashion accessories or artwork)."

Now that he's made the transition from plumber to full-time artist, Rosen's not thinking small. He shows a visitor photos of Little Hog Cay, a 20-acre barrier island in the North Bahamas that he plans to buy.

"I'm not looking to become the richest person in the world," he says, "but I do have a plan in mind. You see this? Well, that's my goal right there. Within five years I want to be doing all my work from my own island. And the folks who are with me ... I'm taking them along for the ride."

As his fashion/art world continues to grow in leaps and bounds around him, Rosen can count on more and more folks being "with him." The question is, though, are they up for the journey?