The Members Gallery

Roses #33 Large tarpaper roses assembled on black plywood. 14” x 12” x 6”, 2007

Connie Johnson

February 1—February 28, 2008

Coleman Gallery
February 2008

Artist’s Statement

Black Roses

Ok, every woman loves them, the little folded ribbon roses. They are usually made in pink and sometimes even have the small green leaf at the base. You’ll see them as adornments for sweaters and kids clothes, or even used in topiary standards to be placed on fireplace mantels. I like them too, but I really like them made from tarpaper.

It began simply enough: I wanted new embellishments for the collage dresses I had been making and turned to my favorite material, tarpaper, which I’ve used in the past to construct small boxes.  It seemed perfect to tear, fold and roll strips of tarpaper to make small folded roses, which I applied to dresses made from bark. But then I found that making them really big and massing them on plywood created a multifaceted abstract surface highlighting both the wonderful tarpaper texture and the rose form. I adore the way the tarpaper both absorbs and reflects light on its folded surfaces and the shadows that are created on the wall when the roses are hung, the shadows creating an extension of the image and appropriating the wall space into the artwork.  And of course I like the transformation of this mundane and ubiquitous material, present on every construction lot throughout my town, into a lush, rich velvety rose, juxtaposing the masculine black tarpaper with a typically feminine symbol of love and adoration.

After making a number of pieces, I discovered the lore surrounding black roses. There is the famous song “Little Black Rose” sung by the Irish in the 1600s during their battles with the British. Often a woman would give her soldier lover, heading into a doomed battle, a single dark red rose as an indication of her undying love. Many people still consider black roses in reference to death or vengeance towards an enemy. And black roses are potent symbols of anarchy, dissent and defiance, and are commonly used by rebel groups as tattoos and on flags. Yet one intrepid gardener pointed out that roses will turn black after suffering an early frost, but with patience, a perfect rose might still emerge from the blackened rosebud in the soon-to-be warm weather, suggesting a symbol for the death of old ideas and habits, especially those that hold one in a rut.

Do black roses really exist? Of course not: to date, despite the extensive effort to breed one, roses labeled black are just very dark blood red, so dark that the shadows appear black.

Connie Johnson, February 2008