Comments and Reviews

Following the tradition of Ronald Searle

Joe Rosenblatt may not be a mainstream artist, but his art is in the mainstream in all the important ways. It is above all about life, lust and love and is stamped with the most human quality of all—the ability to provoke laughter. Following the tradition of Ronald Searle, the satirist, Rosenblatt pokes fun at society, at the vanities we indulge in, and draws a world that is a web of human-animal connections.”

Nancy Baele, Art Review, The Ottawa Citizen, May 14, 1983 – reviewing Rosenblatt’s solo exhibition at Den – Art Gallery in Ottawa

Mythology and folklore with fecundity

Rosenblatt’s poetry and drawings are full of natural things: ants, beetles, dragonflies, birds, bees, pigs, cats, frogs , fish, lampreys, trees, horses, caterpillars, and serpents among other things, including humans, and some metamorphosed ‘ unnatural ‘ things. A surprising number of these natural things are linked traditionally to mythology and folklore with fecundity: in the Mosaic myth: God blessed them, saying , Be fruitful and multiply . . . ( Genesis1:22) .”

Forward by Prof. Michael Bell to The Voluptuous Gardener

Dangerous trek through the underbrush

It’s hardly surprising that Rosenblatt’s latest collection of animal paintings conveys the same ferocity and unapologetic sneakiness.

First off, it’s hard enough just to find the grasping little monsters inside Rosenblatt’s heaping mounds of paint. Fist-sized cow patties of unmixed paint are smashed onto the canvas in rough clusters, turning each painting into a kind of blurry, dangerous trek through the underbrush (or coral reef, or leafy tree top). The nominal subjects of the works – birds, cats, fish – are indistinct from their mucky surroundings, which is the whole point. Animals, Rosenblatt posits, are not of our world, but of a more febrile one, a world where sense and action and identity are indistinct.

Rosenblatt’s paintings are not for everyone. There is something decidedly retro-1970’s looking about these works, with their emphasis on clashing citrus colours and aggressive treatment of paint as a sculptural material. Some viewers will find the work too messy, too unrestrained, too … not Toronto.

Reviewer: R.M. Vaughan, National Post, Big Picture, May 16, 2005

Beautifully original and lyrical

The Voluptuous Gardener by 1976 Governor-General’s Award-winning poet Joe Rosenblatt does not live up to the hyped controversy already surrounding it. Before it could go to press at the Winnipeg printer that publisher Beach Holme had contracted, the printer refused the job because of a certain image titled “Demonic Sex.” Such a dramatic move would seem to guarantee explicitness, but the image in question is about as sexually tantalizing as a bowl of fruit. Look hard and you might be able to make out from the many ink-drawn lines and squiggles a multicoloured beast and reclining woman. Anything demonic has to come from the viewer’s own creative juices.

What The Voluptuous Gardener does live up to is the poet’s equally gifted talent as a visual artist. Rosenblatt is best known for his quirky surrealism, his sense of rhythm and imagery. His poems are almost always funny, wry, smarmy, and self-assured; as if the poet plucks the right words out of thin air and lays them out in perfect structure. His drawings appear to be just as effortless and original. It is hard to come up with a comparable other. He is like animator Peter Max of Yellow Submarine fame, but looser, linear in the same way John Lennon’s drawings are, but denser, similar to Monty Python cartoons, but not quite. They are from an imagined world that comes right out of Rosenblatt’s head, and from his adored cats, his love for cigarettes, and his Vancouver Island garden in Qualicum Beach.

The book mixes drawings with poetry and despite Rosenblatt’s comment that his pictures don’t relate to any given poem, they are natural companions. He writes about frogs and also draws them, bare-assed and sitting on lily pads. He devotes many poems to cats, likewise whiskered felines, paws, and triangular-shaped ears appear everywhere in his sketches. The Voluptuous Gardener is beautifully original and lyrical. All that’s missing is music.”

Reviewed by Catherine Osborne, quill & quire

Get out on the edge of darkness

“Dark fish is one of those rare books that not only speaks about the creative process but manages to invite the reader to enter the dark “to experience your own monolothic loneliness.” The letters not only advise Argenta to “get out on the edge of darkness” they encourage the reader to walk on the same ledge.

The book is a stunning treatise on poetry. Catherine is the perfect student and presents her own wonderful challenges to you. She is, as you say, “exquisitely contagious.” Whereas she is encouraged to delve into the depths, you are a true hallucinogenic inviting in ghosts, sharks, angels and cuttlefish. There is no separation between you and your imagination.

Last summer, when I was in Barcelona with my daughter (on my way to meet Patrick in Andalusia) we strolled throught the streets looking at various architectural landmarks designed by Gaudi. Balconies with shark eyes, intricate mosaic benches with splayed amphibian hands, pineapples on church spires and gothic shapes rising amongst skyscrapers. At one point we looked down and saw that we were walking on small pieces of glass shaped into starfish. It occurred to me that Gaudi’s work revealed the imagination: not that his work came out of imagination but that it actually revealed it. I feel the same about this book of yours and Catherines: not only is it a book about creativity, it actually reveals what creativity is.

Necessity is at the heart of it…the necessity to write poetry – not for the prizes of acclaim or any other such bullshit – but for the sheer necessity of it. It advises, as Rilke does to “go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.”

Eve Joseph