From the opening of his first solo show of oils and watercolors at New York’s Eighth St. Playhouse in 1935, Rosenborg regularly exhibited in New York and throughout the country. In 1936 he became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists, participating in the group’s annual exhibitions and contributing to their multi-faceted efforts to bring attention to the development of modern art in America. In 1938 he contributed the essay “Non-Objective Creative Expression” to the Yearbook that accompanied the AAA’s second annual exhibition at the Gallery of American Fine Arts Society. Rosenborg’s veiled layering of paint and his gestural evocation of landscapes often set his work apart from those he exhibited beside in the AAA, who were more concerned with the solid forms of Cubism. More contemporaneous with the direction of Rosenborg’s work were the expressionist interests of “The Ten,” a group of abstract painters including Mark Rothko, Adolph Gottlieb, and Louis Schanker, who formed to promote experimentation within modern art. Rosenborg joined “The Ten” and took part in several exhibitions during his involvement with the AAA’s formation in the late 1930s. Alike to Gottlieb, as well as contemporary Paul Klee, Rosenborg explored the use of symbols and featured hieroglyphics in a number of works. On the whole, however, Rosenborg’s style was directly based in nature, abstracting landscape forms and developing atmospheric depth in layers of color. His expressionistic take on abstraction relied on sensory impressions, demonstrating the artist’s interaction with reality.
Beginning in the late 1930s Rosenborg took up work as a guard for Baroness Hilla Rebay’s Museum of Non-Objective Painting, a position shared by Jackson Pollock. The direction of Rosenborg’s paintings soon influenced many artists in his circle, from Pollock to Willem de Kooning, and shared with these painters a catharsis and energy of gesture. Rosenborg’s amassed body of work anticipated the full developments of abstract expressionism for his vigorous and forceful handling of his medium, in which paint was often squeezed directly onto the work’s support. In 1949 and 1950, when abstract expressionism was still in the early stages of becoming a cohesive style, Rosenborg took part in Studio 35, a series of evening discussions on subjects of avant-garde art moderated by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Richard Lippold, and Robert Motherwell. In addition to lectures from Jean Arp, Adolph Gottlieb, Jimmy Ernst, Willem de Kooning, Ad Reinhardt, John Cage, and Harold Rosenborg, which depended on the interaction of the general public, a closed three-day session was held for the pioneering artistic figures involved in the series. Rosenborg was invited to join along participants William Baziotes, Louise Bourgeois, Hans Hofmann, David Hare, Ibram Lassaw, Barnett Newman, and David Smith. On the last day’s session, Rosenborg partook in discussions on the possible terms for the arising stylistic movement. Though the descriptions Abstract Symbolist and Abstract Objectionist were discussed on that day, the group’s work would soon come to be identified as Abstract Expressionist.
In 1966 Rosenborg traveled to Europe through a grant awarded by the National Council of the Arts. During the 1970s he became largely reclusive, but remained committed to painting. His work would exhibit frequently throughout the next several decades, including exhibitions hosted by the State Department and U.S. Embassy of Dublin as well as the Butler Institute of American Art. In 1991 after suffering a stroke, he and wife Margaret moved to Portland, Oregon, where he died on October 22 of that year. Through the aggressive, intimate handling of his medium, and critical leadership among the dominant abstract art groups of New York, Ralph Rosenborg optimizes the bold developments of abstract expressionist art in America.
1913 Born in New York City, June 9
The Milton and Sallery Avery Foundation
1935 Eighth St. Playhouse
1934 Salons of America
“Ralph Rosenborg, 79, Abstract Painter, Dies.” The New York Times. October 27, 1992.
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