Artist Andy Rosen is seen installing “Ledgers,” a series of clay sculptures of foxes, along the canal near the Bates Mill Complex in Lewiston last fall. Tom Platz photo

Andy Rosen isn’t sure if he ever had an “ah-ha” moment when he realized he wanted to be an artist. The Auburn native said the journey to becoming an artist was more of a “series of ‘I-don’t-want-to-do-that-type-of-work’ decisions.”

That journey led him to earn a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Iowa and resulted in his work appearing in museums and galleries from New York to Mytilene, Greece. But local fans need not purchase any plane tickets to check out his work: In 2020, Rosen installed his steel bear sculpture “Loom” in Fountain Park in Lewiston and last fall installed “Ledgers,” a series of clay fox sculptures along the canal next to the Bates Mill Complex. Both works were commissioned as part of Lewiston and Auburn’s larger push to bring more public art to the community.

Name: Andy Rosen

Age: 47

Lives in: South Portland

Where do you draw your inspiration for your artworks from? What types of mediums do you use? The honest answer here is I don’t know. But generally, what I’ve found is that I may have an idea about what I want to make but that the process of making is what really generates and shapes the idea. I tend to use any medium that seems to fit an idea. I have training that ranges from glassblowing to sign making. Lately I’ve been really into ceramics and kinetic sculpture.

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What is your “philosophy” when creating art? What do you hope your art communicates to the viewer? Not being dodgy here, but that’s something I feel so removed from knowing. Like I may find a space or have a thought or way of working that feels fascinating and then (I) set about to explore that. If I’m lucky enough to have a proposal connect with (an arts) committee, then I feel like my job is to explore that fascinating thing. Perhaps this is a roundabout way of saying that I want my work to encourage a similar level of fascination with an idea, or as is often the case, with the use/history of an area.

You said on your website, “I like bringing art to places where people aren’t used to seeing it.” What do you mean by that? I tend to gravitate to spaces that feel like they need something else or spaces that tend to be overlooked. Ideas for pieces generally originate from my sense of a space or how it may have been used. I tend to imagine what spaces were like before I was there. Or what an animal might make of a space without our presence.

Why is that important to you? Galleries and museums are great. But I’ve found that creating my art experiences outside these institutions is a more straightforward means to access (rather than recreate) an authentic experience. One can have those experiences in museums and galleries, but the spaces I’ve been interested in adding to are vital players in the artwork.

How has your Maine upbringing influenced your work? I think I’m always very aware of how silly art can seem in the face of a work-a-day life. Or how art, especially contemporary art, can have an air of snobby-ness that often requires art historical context. In the back of my mind is always this kind of thinking. Like I can’t help but say to myself, “What’s this for?”

The conversation with the pragmatic feels very Maine. Like, art can seem totally impractical and without purpose in the context of rural living or an experience with the wilderness. There’s some expression that goes ‘You can’t eat a painting’ (or I’m making it up). My rebuttal to this dialogue is: a) I kinda can’t not have these quirky ideas anyway, and b) part of my job as an artist is to wrestle with art as a necessary/fundamental structure in people’s lives.

Tell me about “Ledgers.” Why did you want to create this piece of art and what is the meaning behind it? Ledgers was inspired by going to the site at some point in 2019, seeing the canal and some trees (more like overgrown saplings) growing inside of it. The overgrown saplings were kind of a tell of the passage of time. From there I imagined other possible tells. The idea for foxes inhabiting the space seemed to fit. Foxes seem to have a wonderful disregard for the boundary lines that we draw. They’re a reminder of how the natural world operates on rules that we sometimes believe don’t apply to us. I wanted to take the idea of foxes and natural rules and merge them with the nearby architecture.

Gargoyles are interesting in that they are figurative sculptures that (are) also used to redirect water off buildings. Except, I wanted to take the gargoyles traditional/historic location and bring them closer to the canal (a hybrid of natural and human-built systems). I was also very conscious of the canal’s proximity to the (Bates Mill Complex) and so I chose to use the same material that the mills were built from. That the brick clay was from Auburn and very likely the same clay bed that the mills were built from was even more exciting to me.

What does it mean to you to be creating public art in your hometown? It’s great! The experience has been a flood of memories and then wonderful to think that something I made gets added to the area’s history (and maybe creating memories for others).

What are you working on now? A thread that runs through much of my art activity is exploring the illusion of domesticity. I’ve been making a series of kinetic sculptures/videos that temporarily exist in the wild. So, things like beer cans with ticking clock parts and motorized tree limbs or a pulsating spinning mass inside my compost bin. These things are kind of jokes or playful ways of looking at “how things work” verses “how I think things work.” Lately, I’ve been designing cabinet-like things that will bring the natural world inside domestic interior spaces. Picture a computer desk merged with a section of a forest. Also, talk is cheap. Having an idea is different than executing it.

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