Upstate collage artist and teacher Roscoe Conn describes his artwork and art career as “chunks” of himself that do not fall far from his personality and approach to life. He will share himself and his collage and mixed media art in his solo exhibition, “Chips Off the Old Block: A Retrospective of Roscoe Conn’s Art,” Jan. 2 through March 2, 2024, in the Solomon Gallery of the Artists Collective | Spartanburg.
A reception will be held Thursday, Jan. 18, and an artist’s talk is set for Thursday, Feb. 15, both as part of ArtWalk Spartanburg.
Conn says his “vision and spirit are evident in the collection’s style, content and form. Ranging from meditations on politics and identity to landscapes of my environment, the exhibit showcases a consistent appreciation and appraisal of the things in life we often take for granted.”
The exhibit shows how his works have “developed from the formalist practices I learned in school toward more avant-garde approaches to my medium of collage later in life,” he adds. “The works are loosely categorized by topic – religion, politics, abstraction, landscapes (both urban and rural) and the body.
“Of course, no category is rigid, so the works may overlap thematically,” he continues, “but they all point to a life in retrospection. The exhibit asks the viewer to consider developing ideas with no conclusions or answers. How has my work on these subjects developed over time? How does one’s own views on life change over time? What are consistencies in pattern and thought that we hold onto? The exhibit brings these questions to the forefront of the eye and the mind. In a society that asks us to shape and mold ourselves to fit in, what do we do with the debris?”
Conn, a native of The Bronx, New York, who has lived most of his life in the South, says visitors “should have not have expectations when they walk into the exhibit. The best part about artwork is that expectations can be left by the sign-in sheet and door.”
As a collage artist and teacher, Conn says he has long been “fascinated by people, places and things. Collage has a deep tradition in Black art; other forms of art often fail to capture the ‘ripped-out-and-sewn-back-together’ feeling of Black identity in the United States. My mode of operating in art and in life is cutting to preserve, but I think Austin Kleon perhaps said it better with ‘creativity is subtraction’ back in 2010. I draw from collected old National Geographic, Ebony, LIFE and other magazines in order to create my art.
“Using these images from the 1940s onward produces a visual history of language and media that draws into question our own media habits and content consumption today,” he continues. “Even when the subject matter is not people, this process of cutting to preserve remains. I take my time with my art and there’s no easy way to say that it is a long time that I often take with each piece. Many times, the art is nearly fully formed in my mind before I pick up a brush, pair of scissors or tube of glue.”
After serving in the military, Conn pursued fine arts at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and has been teaching ever since. He taught in North Carolina for over 20 years before retiring to teach at Broome High School in Spartanburg School District Three. “Teaching has influenced my art and my art has influenced my teaching, creating a reciprocal relationship between educating and learning myself,” he says.
“Growing up in the northeast influenced much of my work – city streets and crowded transit stations make for good subject matter,” Conn says. “For a while I focused on the trailer parks and pastoral scenes found in the South, but now my work tends to be more abstract. I have shown my work at the Blue Spiral in Asheville, the Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg and the Upstairs Gallery in Tryon among others over the years.” Last year, he was accepted into Art Fields 2023 again and exhibited his work “1010 Brownstone Cathedral.”
The 30 pieces in the exhibition will be available for purchase, with prices ranging from $500 to $10,000.
Conn says he is happy to present his works at the Artists Collective and excited to have a cohesive viewing area for his life’s work and process. “Having experienced many things in life, being able to see the effort pay off is the only thing one can hope for in the time we have here on Earth,” he says.