by Julianne Carroll
For Los Gatos artist Rosalie Lang, there is beauty in even the most finite of details. In her latest series, "Formations," Lang took photos of rocks along the California coastline, magnified the images then produced exquisitely detailed oil paintings.
"My approach is to bring forward what one would not see; I have to go close in and magnify," says Lang, a former art professor.
"This is my serenade to rocks. What I like about rocks is they tell you about what happened before; they are like ancient icons that are sitting there, and all of these environmental changes affect the rocks and change them little by little," she says. "They are like little miracles, ancient sentinels and icons from the past."
Lang first became interested in rocks 30 years ago while living in a small mountain community in Orange County, New York. While hiking on nearby trails, she explored the countryside and observed interlocking shapes and textures on the surfaces of stone houses. In back road expeditions, she discovered artistry in handcrafted stone fences.
"Rocks have color, texture, are affected by environment and are always changing," Lang says.
In the past several years, her fascination with rocks blossomed while exploring the California coastline.
The result was the "Formations" collection, which took inspiration from Big Sur, Point Lobos and San Mateo. The collection was displayed last June and July at the Art Museum of Los Gatos.
"I used the imagery that I had collected over the years and then went back to Pebble Beach, Bean Hollow and Pescadero, and started doing more photographing there," Lang says.
After collecting myriad photographs, Lang returned to her studio to select which rocks and scenes appealed to her most.
Creating her artwork is a laborious process, Lang says, requiring a great deal of time to craft a series.
"I used to feel badly that it would take me so long to complete a series, until I learned that [Dutch master Johannes] Vermeer only produced 35 exquisite works in his lifetime," she says with a laugh, standing in front of a beautifully lit, painting of "Interspace." The painting is from a photo of a heart-shaped rock taken in Big Sur.
Lang thought she was destined to be an artist when she was a small child, as she would constantly embellish book reports with intricate drawings and artworks.
"It gives me so much satisfaction," she says. "You know when it's right if you feel comfortable with it."
Using muted purples, blues and earthy tones, Lang meticulously re-creates the rock formations, but does so with a punch.
"Her palette is fairly consistent since she's working basically with gray rocks, but she brings in little bursts of color that sort of make it sparkle," says Catherine Politopoulos, curator at the Art Museum of Los Gatos. "The illusion she achieves is remarkable. She does a very small portion of a rock, or a few rocks, but makes it look like you are looking at a whole cliff. People were very taken with that [at the museum show] because you can go from the very tiny to the very large in your mind."
Lang developed a serious interest in oil painting while studying at Queens College in New York. After receiving her bachelor's degree, Lang attended the Pratt Institute in New York to study painting and photography. She went on to obtain a doctorate in education from New York University, and in 1967 became an assistant professor of art at the College of New Jersey. In 1976, Lang and her husband, Joel, relocated to the Bay Area for her new position as an assistant professor at San Jose State University.
"I was determined to make sure that teachers taught art properly and correctly and abundantly in their classrooms," she says.
After four years, Lang left the university to pursue a career as a full-time artist.
"There is an idea that is being developed, thought about, imagined, analyzed and then translated. The process of translation involves so many steps in viewing and in seeing it from different sides, which is a creative way of thinking," Lang says. "All the way through it, there is a problem that is being solved with an end in view. The handling of materials is technique, but it's what goes on in the head that is most important."
Politopoulos says it's this intense study and dedication that makes Lang's work stand out."
She works constantly, and I think that is a big part of mastering not only your medium, but her attention to detail and her illusions," Politopoulos says. "It's sort of like a magic act."
For more information on Lang's current and past collections, visit www.rosalielang.com.