Starting Now

Bev Rosen's passing is a loss to the local contemporary-art scene she helped spark.

The Rosens' house became headquarters for the effort. Bernie hit up a politically connected neighbor to secure the land, then just a vacant, weed-strewn lot, not the beautiful park it is today. He also secured a donation of marine-grade plywood to be used to build the sculptures. Bev brought in Central City artist Angelo di Benedetto, who got some friends from New York interested in the project, including Robert Morris. The Rosens had signed a contract with the city agreeing to remove all of the sculptures by the end of the summer, but the park was such a hit with the public that Mayor Tom Currigan stepped in and asked that they be left in place, which they were. Sadly, a number of them have been lost over the years, including the one by Morris. But the marvelous Tony Magar, a simple, black angular form that rises out of the grass, still stands in the park, along with three others.

Personal tragedy struck the Rosens in the early '70s when their only daughter, Jane, was diagnosed with lymphoma. According to Bernie, "She just slowly faded away and died." This caused Bev to give up on the boldly colored and high-energy "Cityscapes" and turn to making small black-and-white works on paper that have rarely been exhibited.

In the mid-'70s, the Rosens established an alternative space called St. Charles on Wazee in a three-story building at 1843 Wazee Street. On the first floor, Bev had her painting studio, with the gallery occupying the top two floors. "Bev was one of the first people to see the potential of those old warehouse buildings," says Bernie. "At the time, she was the only person occupying a building on that block." The building is now gone, and the site is a parking lot.

St. Charles on Wazee focused on showcasing contemporary artists working in Colorado, and among those who presented shows there were Roland Detre, Chuck Parson, Carley Warren and Stan Meyer. But Rosen also brought in high-profile players from New York such as Peter Schjeldahl, Ivan Karp and Robert Pincus-Whitten, who presented well-attended lectures. Rosen also showed her own work there, including an installation in which she collaborated with ceramics master Maynard Tischler.

The brick walls in her studio inspired a return to brightly hued paintings, the first Bev had done since Jane's death. In these "Brick" paintings, rectangles evocative of bricks were freely arranged across the canvas. Sadly, I never got to see any of these St. Charles shows, because I hadn't yet moved to Denver.

In 1982, both Rosens retired from their respective careers and relocated to St. Croix, where they lived for five years. The style of Rosen's paintings changed during the sojourn, and her work of the late '80s and early '90s marked her return to abstract expressionism. In a solo show in 1993 at Payton-Rule Gallery, Rosen showed her then-recent paintings, brushy color fields that incorporated passages of poetry that she'd written. "She'd been writing poetry since she was a little girl," says Bernie. The Payton-Rule show was the only Rosen solo I ever saw.

Though no one realized it at the time, Rosen was already showing subtle signs of Alzheimer's as early as 1996. By 1998, things had gotten bad enough that she had to give up painting. Even as she declined physically, though, her art remained relevant into the 21st century. In 2000, curator Katherine Smith-Warren chose to include Rosen in Time and Place, a traveling show documenting women artists in Colorado that originated at the Metro State Center for the Visual Arts ("You Go, Girls!, September 14, 2000). In 2002, Rosen was included in 5 Abstract at the Museum of Contemporary Art ("Broad Strokes," January 24, 2002), for which museum director Cydney Payton chose the five artists whom she considered the most important abstractionists in Colorado. It's interesting that Rosen would be featured at the CVA and the MCA, because spiritually, her St. Charles on Wazee was a forerunner to both institutions.

At about the time of 5 Abstract, Rosen, who had lost the ability to walk or recognize her surroundings, entered a nursing home, where she remained until her death on May 5 at the age of 81. "It was a long and terrible illness," Bernie says with a sigh. In accordance with Rosen's wishes, there was no memorial.

Rosen's paintings have been blown to the four winds, and since she was represented by galleries not only in Denver, but also in New York, Chicago and Miami, the whereabouts of many works fall into the "unknown" category. In Denver, there is the one at the Kirkland, though, and two in the Auraria Library, and the family has retained a representative sampling. This sets up the possibility for a posthumous retrospective -- and it's not like the art world around here doesn't owe her one.

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