Rothenstein's Boxes

Author Mel Gooding
Publisher Art Books International (1992)
ISBN 1874044007
Price £25.00
This publication is available for purchase from our gallery.

Hard cover with slip case. 113 pages; 250 illustrations; 60 in colour.


My earliest work in relief and assemblage was done around 1960. I was also doing woodcut with solid carved shapes and deeply
grooved lines and this together with assemblage set alight a trail that led to the work on the boxes over the next thirty
years. With woodcut it was sometimes the wood itself that became the subject, particularly in the case of elm, with its wild and wandering grain, where the energy of growth, the fires of summer, the grip of winter are written in the wood itself. With the use
of wood and of printed impressions from its surface I felt able to work directly with the surge and swell of outside reality.
This feeling was accelerated by the discovery of a nearby wood yard walled in by monumental offcuts of elm. They formed a
vertical landscape traced everywhere by the powerful and scrambled lines of twisted growth. On first seeing them I felt an
immediate and urgent challenge to base a series of images on surfaces so magnificent.

By the early 'seventies the camera began to play a prominent part; the photograph became an extension of the found object. It
too was subject to chance and could be isolated from the flux of surrounding events. I saw the camera as a magic net in whose mesh one could discover quite unexpected, even mysterious, values of light, of movement and of form. The pictures in the morning paper became the record of the theatre of the real. At times the photo
image was directly used, but re-made under conditions of the creative scrutiny of control to accord more closely with the process of screen printing and the play of creative feeling. With the engagement with photography the artist is forced from the
enclosed privacy of the studio. He enters open ground. Other men's cameras offer a thousand doorways to worlds without walls.
I continually added to a store of magazine and news photos and in this way the imagery of the boxes took form.

Michael Rothenstein, September, 1991


The "Moonshot Boxes" were based on a single found object, a pierced gothic molding discovered in a local rubbish dump, and a
news photo of crowds on Cape Kennedy waiting for a space shot blast-off. The moment I saw the fragment of molding I felt a
strange sensation of old familiarity - a flash of recognition.
Years before I'd drawn just such moldings, the sort found in every parish church. Careful records in blue and red ink had filled my notebook. This activity embraced the concept of the great cathedral with towering traceried windows reaching to its roof.

For many months the fragment from the rubbish heap was stored away; only later when photos of the NASA preparations for the
moonshot filled the papers did I find connection with the gothic fragment. Thus the cathedral with its pointed towers spoke to the spacecraft with its pointed cone. In this way the "Gothic Moonshot" became a metaphor for the twinned achievement: the medieval cathedrals of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and the technical miracle of the twentieth century spaceshot.

When printing the cathedral I found a stray proof crumpled up, blowing about in the yard, turning over and over in the wind. An
image massive as a towering rock, reduced to an image frail as a butterfly. Something to be crumpled up or flattened out, at will,
had become an absurd structural paradox - A CRUMPLED CATHEDRAL!"

Michael Rothenstein, September, 1991


The first box I ever made contained a black, japanned, tin watercolour paintbox with a nest of china paintpans - red, blue,
yellow and black - and two brushes. Even these small objects may engage our wider speculation. The use of the palette, the brush, the pot, the pan, or tube of colour, are equally shared by all artists at all times. Their potential, during the savage spell
of creativity, is without limit.

The brush, in particular, the active messenger between brain and
hand, has claimed the largest share of my own speculation. I like to think of it held by the youthful hand of Picasso or equally by the arthritic fingers of Renoir in old age.

Michael Rothenstein, January, 1992