No one uses color quite as intentionally as Leah Rosenberg: Interdisciplinary Artist and Creative Director of the recent The Color Factory. We met at The Progress, San Francisco (sister to the legendary State Bird Provisions) and discussed her perspective on color, creation, and all things Leah.
Rosenberg is honest, meticulous, and explorative in the way that she brings color into a room. Before creating anything, she accounts for elements that already define a place and the experience of being there: city views from a certain window, specific hues on a sunny afternoon, and the shade of red on the muni bus that passes by at lunch. She finds her inspiration (and often palette) outside the studio. “I do walks collecting colors [from the given space] to try to connect with it. Resulting in a color-filled site-specific installation that could read as a landscape painting or a map of that place in an abstract way.”
When it comes time for her to work, whether it’s a hanging painting or sculptural element, she injects her perception of the space into her creations to make them true to where they live. Through this process of survey, extraction, and expression, her works embody the spaces where they’ll live and create a new experience within it. “I’m a process-based artist. I want to show how a material builds up overtime…whether that medium is cake, paint, screen printing, sculpture, and color is another one of those mediums.”
Sitting at The Progress, my gaze wanders between cement walls and wooden benches looking for design details.
I notice the space is heavily constructed. However, the interior is defined by earthy tones, natural light, and many artist’s creations. I spot several bright and colorful pieces of art in very inconspicuous places: a bundle of paint sticks here, a stack of textiles there. I can immediately recognize that those bits and pieces were put there by Leah. She thoughtfully points out that much of the design of the space was made by chefs Stuart + Nicole Brioza, with interior design by Oakland-based Wylie Price, and many unique wood features fabricated by Oakland-based Kelly Best.
“I think the artists and fabricators that Stuart works with and who he includes on the walls in the restaurants is a testament to his vision and that your experience is not just the food you eat, but what you are surrounded by when you do.”
As she shows me her works at The Progress, the most illuminating lesson I learn from Leah is that color isn’t a thing, it’s an experience. Humans have a special relationship with color: seeing happens in our minds where it’s muddled by memories, feelings, thoughts, and our imaginations. We all see the colors of the world differently. Artists like Leah, who work so intentionally with pigments, wield them like a magician…
“I think that’s a powerful thing– people’s association with colors…I love how stories can emerge from presenting a color we encounter every day and using it in a wall installation or serve it as food, how that might make us see those everyday moments more vividly.”
When I stare at a gray wall, my mind drifts into the ocean’s stormy horizon. When I see a gradient of primary colors, I’m back in Orange County sharing a sunset. I’ve learned to be afraid of rough seas and I’ve learned that shared sunsets are loving moments. I don’t care for the color gray and I can’t help feeling transfixed by golden-hour pink. After meeting Leah Rosenberg, I know a little more about how I color the world and how she uses art to reframe our impressions of these colors.
Even if they don’t know it, admirers of Leah’s works are forming new associations with color because of her. Every piece, every stripe, every step of the arrangement is an abstraction of her relationship with the space. And every time we visit a space, it takes on a new form as part of our individual experience too.
The only sad part is that Leah, as many artists with public works, rarely see the impact they’re making—it’s unconscious, slow, and growing. When she does get to interact with her fans, though, there’s magic in those moments.
“I think the Everyday a Color project at Irving street Projects was an opportunity to really observe people’s /passerby’s associations with color since I was painting the same walls a different color each day over the course of fifty days. I would give visitors a button of that day’s color, evidence they had been there. A little boy who lived upstairs would come by every day after school to collect that day’s button, until he had them all. One day he came down with a plate of rainbow chip cookies and all the buttons he had collected pinned to his jacket. Later when I visited, he told me he painted his bedroom the color of the sea! I make the things and I don’t have an expectation of their reactions but it definitely fuels me and I think if art can keep us connected like this, then yay for art.”
A few weeks later dejavu strikes as I walk past a set of orange stripes. I pause to think if I’ve seen the painting before, surely it’s a Rosenberg but I haven’t been here before… just as suddenly I see they’ve just echoed the blur of a passing muni bus. Genius. In this moment I realize that when we see the world from a new perspective, we lead more colorful lives.
Spot something of Leah’s you love? Say something! Send us your impressions so we can let her know. Email Ani: firstname.lastname@example.org