Written by Marina May
Walking up the winding staircase of TechArtista, ducking through a pyramid of color, we arrive at the balcony and immediately are confronted by a massive, tri-partite mural.
We are enveloped by an all-encompassing masterpiece rendered entirely in black and white. Edo Rosenblith stands in duplicate. Both Edos sport a jean jacket, but one has his feet firmly planted on the concrete floors of the space, the other anchors a labyrinth of activity within the mural. To painted Edo’s right, a hoard of pseudo-servers in tweed jackets hoist a roasted pig above their shoulders. This group carries their bounty towards the heart of the dysfunction, a family sitting down for a meal. In one particularly startling moment, a young couple appears conjoined in an act of PDA so grotesque their noses have fused together while their tongues attempt to grope endlessly in mid air. Peppering the black expanse are characters from pop-culture like Patrick Star, Pinocchio, and one of the black birds from Dumbo. All the while painted Edo continues to work with his back to us, showing only his meticulously crafted jean jacket, its folds formed from simple strokes of white. The words “The Supper Club” appear to hang horizontally from a rope with letters falling about catywompus though still hooked together by a thread, both entitling the scene and demarcating its chaotic interior.
“I was asked to create a mural by as curator who was working on a show at TechArtista,” says the 29 year old artist. “I had about 3 weeks to complete it in this semi-public space. The more I would think about what I wanted to do, I found myself wasting time, so I created a visual collage of images I’d collected and projected that onto the wall.”
This mural initially began as just the central tableau.
“I was thinking about other shared spaces. Then I thought of the concept of the dinner.”
He thought back to the most notable dinner depicted in Western history, Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper, and paired that with the rich interior scenes of Norman Rockwell. He then translated those iconic images and subverted them in an iconoclastic way that mirrors the sheer awkwardness and the humorous encounters that come from bringing people together.
The central scene was phase one, but Edo didn’t know that at the time. He filled in the right and left wings later, at the request of the owners of TechArtista.
“I was kind of apprehensive at first because I thought I’d finished the mural. I didn’t want to mess it up or over work it.”
He continued the theme of gathering, drawing directly from his personal experiences growing up. Specifically, he referenced family dinners on Christmas.
“I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, so we would always get Chinese. One time, these men carried out a giant suckling pig. I was probably six or seven at the time, and I see this animal carcass coming out.”
He also looked to the sculptural work of Jeff Koons, whose whimsical stacks of balloon animals populate major museums across the globe.
The right panel is inherently self-referential. In the grand tradition of Velasquez and Raphael, he chose to include himself perpetually painting the work.
Above his form, Pinocchio pears out, his nose half grown.
“There is an idea that people associate art with beauty or truth,” says Edo, “But in Pinocchio I suggest that art can actually present a fallacy.”
This is not his first introduction to a constructed reality on a grand scale or in the form of a mural. During his time as an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design, he was able to study abroad and work in Rome. There he assisted an artist named Steven Westfall, who had a fellowship at the American Art Academy in Rome.
“I essentially got paid in food. We would work on massive murals and on scaffolds that were three stories high and then come down and sit at long tables full of academics and people of the world all studying at the Academy. I would be seated in between a poet and a scholar of Etruscan Art.”
Westfall, according to Edo, was extremely influenced by Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings. Because of this interest in LeWitt, most of Westfall’s work was large scale and highly geometric. This was furthered by their studies as a group where they would tour the churches and basilicas of Rome. They looked not at the frescos, but at the floors comprised entirely of mosaics and tessellated stone.
“Steven demystified that process of creating a mural. We always worked from a sketch and figured out how to execute it on a two to three story wall.”
He didn’t return to mural making until 2014, after Edo had returned home and completed his Master’s of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. Though he was born in Israel, his family immigrated to the United States when he was one. His family lived in both New York and Scottsdale before finally settling in Missouri when he was eight.
In 2014 he was asked to participate in a show at the Lemp Brewery, a hub for many artists in the city. He didn’t have any work here because it was all being shown in Brooklyn at the time, so he suggested a mural on the wall instead.
“I painted mural for about two weeks. For the last few years before that I was working in miniature, using tiny brushes, and didn’t produce anything larger than a sheet of paper. With this, I got to use my whole body and was able immerse the viewer in my work.”
From there he produced two other murals. The first was produced for a curator from the University of Missouri St. Louis and the second was displayed at Contemporary Art Museum of St. Louis.
Due to the time constraints under which he created the murals, he developed what he calls automatic or improvised drawing. Where in a short span of time, he translates the “doodles” from his sketchbook onto a wall in a much larger scale.
“There’s no hierarchy, composition or linear structure -- kind of like Keith Haring or Cy Twombly’s scratches. You gain an exploratory freedom.”
During this time, he was also teaching art at a school that catered exclusively for children with Autism called Giant Steps.
“There are only about 35 students. The kids fit differently on the spectrum, some had Asbergers and others had little or no language or motor skills. The students were between the ages of 5 and 21, and sometimes the 21 year olds had the cognitive ability of the 5 year olds.”
He felt it was important to showcase that what these students were doing in their art class was important, so he showed both the parents and their children history books with the paintings of Cy Twombly.
“It’s important to use art history to educate people about the different ways to communicate… especially the students who can’t communicate well. I had a student who created symbols that represented things he observed and things he found interesting, which he incorporated into his art.”
He then noted that Twombly was a code breaker in World War II, and many people think his scratches and marks are all symbols that can be used to encode and decode aspects of his identity.
“All of these things influence my work – outsider art; people who make art to do it for themselves purely. All of these things influenced my interest in automatic drawing, enhancing the subconscious and helping me to trust my instincts.”
His final mural before TechArtista that he produced at The Luminary, integrated his knack for improvising which he had mastered while working with automatic drawing with a more formal exploration into composition.
Again he was given two weeks, but he had a hard time figuring out what to paint.
“I woke up at a friend’s apartment on Cherokee street at 7 A.M. and took a walk around the neighborhood. I photographed the things I found interesting on the street.”
He used those photographs to construct an image that mirrored its surroundings. Particularly influenced by the Mexican-American residents who owned shops and restaurants on Cherokee, he referenced their hand painted signs and storefronts in his work. In doing this, he allowed the people of the neighborhood to become embedded within his work.
“Being in the Luminary – it’s like a fish bowl -- drunk people would wonder by and ask me if I made ‘that thing’ and kids would come in wondering what was going on. It was nice to make something to reflect the culture of the neighborhood.”
Edo has recently been commissioned to wrap the entire lobby of TechArtista in another grisaille mural.
(Hopefully, he will have more than two weeks to complete this one)
He also released a book comprised of all of his self-proclaimed “doodles” cultivated from his sketchbooks, for sale at TechArtista.
His MFA thesis work is currently on display at the Kemper Art Museum on the campus of Washington University of St. Louis. He has been awarded a fellowship to study in Paris for two months next year.
You can see Edo in action as he has generously agreed to an exclusive one night only live mural demonstration Saturday, July 15th in the Grove from 5-11 at the Naked Bike Race.