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Featured Review: James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer 

James Rosen, Homage to the Grunewald: The Isenheim Altarpiece, 1974, oil, oil/wax emulsion on canvas. Collection of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

James Rosen, Homage to the Grunewald: The Isenheim Altarpiece, 1974, oil, oil/wax emulsion on canvas. Collection of the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.

James Rosen: The Artist and the Capable Observer With pieces selected from the artist's six-decade career, this exhibition of oil paintings and ink-on-paper sketches is a double homage: to the art-historical references Rosen draws from, and to the rarefied art of the figure. Focusing on liturgical masterworks of the Italian and Northern Renaissance (altarpieces by Giotto, Grunewald and Duccio, among others), Rosen paints diaphanous canvases that re-present the original compositions — literally — through the gauzy lens of memory. Rosen's modus operandi is a distinct one: He layers each canvas in nearly 60 "veils" of oil paint and wax, in successively less intense gradations of pigment, resulting in a ghostlike image of almost watery depth, where the more extreme hues surface and hint at the otherwise submerged imagery. The result is a work that straddles abstraction and realism: Given patient scrutiny, the nearly opaque gray surface reticently conveys a fully realized figural work. Several collections of works on paper accompany the paintings, illustrating Rosen's dedication to drawing as a means of homing in on his subjects. In their linear delicacy, these small studies may equal the impact of the completed works; here the dynamic of the paintings is reversed, as Rosen reveals himself to be a near supplicant to the faces, bodies, landscapes and shadowy details of the things he trains his eyes on. Through December 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art, 3700 West Pine Boulevard (on the Saint Louis University campus); 314-977-7170 or http://mocra.slu.edu. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tue.-Sun.

Click here for a complete list of St. Louis art capsules.

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