Artist profile: David DeRosa finds inspiration through balance

From the June 12, 2014 edition

Columbus-based artist David DeRosa recently earned a MFA from CCAD, which is quite the accomplishment, but his final project providing a new artistic path is just as significant. DeRosa has been an accomplished and well-regarded painter since receiving his degree from Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 1997.

Since that time, DeRosa has exhibited extensively on the West Coast, as well as New York City, Chicago and Belgium, but a couple years ago he was looking for something new.

“I kind of hit a glass ceiling where I didn’t know what to do with this anymore. It’s a double-edged sword when you start doing something and … you start getting shows and that’s the dream. Galleries pick you up because of this body of work you’ve created, and then they want you to keep doing that, because I know how to show and sell this. For a period of time that’s good, but I’d run out of steam,” DeRosa said from his soon-to-be-former studio at CCAD (he’s currently moving to Millworks Studios on the East Side).

A backpacking trip through Europe in 2010 was both a well-deserved break for DeRosa, who’d sold hundreds of paintings by then, but also the opportunity to think about a new approach.

“I was at the point where [I felt like], ‘I love my paintings, but I want to do something different.’ I didn’t know what that was.” DeRosa said. “I did what the impressionists did; studied the light, did some sketches, thought a lot, and wrote a lot down. I didn’t actually do any painting, I just absorbed.”

DeRosa has continued painting since that trip to Europe — several are on view at The Waxxpot in the Short North through June — and says he always will. But following that time of reflection (and during the first year of the MFA program), DeRosa found new inspiration for his creative pursuits: himself.

In his mid-twenties DeRosa was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, and while his art has since served as both an outlet and a sanctuary for managing the ups and downs — “A big chunk of my practice isn’t art therapy, but it’s therapeutic in that it keeps me centered,” he said — it has never been the sole focus or inspiration. DeRosa created the collection “Survival Tactics” based on the gamut of his personal experiences.

The two-piece installation DeRosa showed at the 2014 MFA Thesis Exhibition is a psychological presentation. “Projection” is 78 cutouts combining Rorschach test symmetrical designs imbued with real-world figures. Thousands of Pepto-Bismol-pink cicada sculptures laid out on the floor like a body in the fetal position make up “Four Years.”

When “situations would burp up” in DeRosa’s life, he would create an ink blot, and then create a more graphic version of things he saw inside said blot (often cicadas, crows, ravens and the body in a defensive and/or vulnerable positions, which hold personal meanings for DeRosa). The resulting hand-cut imaginings became “Projection.”

“These are really heavily loaded with personal symbolism, and became a type of code,” DeRosa said of the cutouts. “I wanted to go deep and be honest. If you get out of your forward-thinking and get deeper, you get into symbolism and it becomes more of a universal statement.”

“Four Years” is borne out of the four years DeRosa was on medication after being diagnosed. The pink — same color of DeRosa’s medication — life-size cicadas look like massive pills.

“This is about the idea that there’s one magic pill that fixes all your problems. You’re told you have some kind of an issue that puts you in a box. And in that box there’s a treatment for it. It treats the symptom not the cause,” DeRosa said.

The conversation between the two pieces is where everything comes together and balance is found.

“I’m making a comment about all of this. There’s a lot of stuff in there, but the entire display is minimalistic.” DeRosa said. “Both pieces on one end come from a dark place, which talks about the depression or the down side of bi-polar. Doing so many, girding them out; doing so many of one and setting up those [cicadas] talks about mania. Then, the space in between would be the even-keel, the balance.”

While DeRosa has found a new inspiration (a way to explore being bi-polar), he’ll never stop painting. Besides being vibrantly wonderful works delving into everything from poignant (and witty) socio-political statements to fantastic (and sexy) figure studies, painting is an important way for DeRosa to work and live a balanced life.

“It appeals to me [to do both] because I’m bi-polar, but I’m also bi-polar in practice. There are two-sides to the work that I do, the stuff that’s narrative and technical … and there’s the work that’s introspective and more conceptual. I’m trying to straddle the two places … because I love the work that comes from that aesthetic, but I like the idea of tackling the heavier things.”

Photo by Tessa Berg