Ben Roosevelt

Ben Roosevelt

A newcomer to Atlanta carves a niche for himself with a pared-down, graphic style.

Since his arrival in Atlanta last year, Ben Roosevelt has been inspired by the richness of the urban landscape to create billboard-size vignettes, such as those on view on the outside wall of the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center this month, depicting outlined figures of what the artist calls ‘moral moments’ – figures which may present troubling issues for the viewing audience.

A man felled by gunshot, labor forces represented by street sweepers and sanitation workers, and a burka-shrouded woman are some of those included on the grid of graphic images screen-printed on white plastic adorning the outside gallery wall. Roosevelt’s academic background in religious anthropology (MA, Vanderbilt University) surely has impacted his career as an artist, more as a jumping off point for posing questions than as an arena for making broad political statements. Having earned his MFA in Ireland (Burren College of Art, 2006), Roosevelt is keenly aware of the strong conceptual and sociological influences of the current European art experience.

Part sociologist, part philosopher, Roosevelt makes art that defines situations by establishing relationships among types and their environments on a large or intimate scale. He works in many media, producing drawings and graphics as well as sculptural environments that together add up to a distinctive body of work. Beginning with images scavenged off the Internet and modified into line drawings and silhouettes, Roosevelt’s practice calls to mind modernist and post-modernist precedents equally engaged in social or political ends, including the German New Objectivity artists of the 1920s or the standardized graphic figures of Matt Mullican’s public signage and billboard works of the 1980s. Roosevelt’s forms are rendered in greater detail than these earlier works, lending the work a greater intimacy that plays well off the anonymity of his practice.

An interior installation piece, District (2007), consists of silhouettes of street vignettes cut from brown paper gift bags and displayed on rows of wooden shelving. Roosevelt’s deadpan execution delivers a lot of punch in the tension he sets up in his work. This piece operates somewhere between a visual lexicon of familiar but overlooked urban scenery and private meditation. With great economy of means, in his pared-down graphic style and use of humble materials, Roosevelt reconfigures a social landscape for the viewer that may effect positive change.

A newcomer to Atlanta, Roosevelt was selected for the residency program at the Contemporary, and most recently was awarded the Forward Arts Foundation Emerging Artist prize for 2008.

Roosevelt’s work is currently on view at the Contemporary Arts Center’s Talent Show: The Atlanta Biennial. Next June he will have a solo exhibition at the Swan Coach House Gallery.

Gallery News

The first show by sculptor Melissa Stern and painter Jessie Mann at StudioSwan opens this month. Stern presents Above the Belt and Mann brings a collection of her contemporary paintings. 7/21 – 9/8; (770) 463-9440,

Landscapes of the Southeast are on display at The Sportsman’s Gallery in A Tribute to Regionalism. Paintings, etchings and sculptures by Al Barnes, Bucky Bowles, Jack Whitaker, Mark Henry, Brett Smith, Walter Matia, Eldridge Hardie, Kent Lemon and Sandy Scott will be on display. Through 8/10; (404) 841-0133,

At the Swan Coach House, is a show by nine Southern artists, Manipulating the Commonplace, featuring works of reinterpreted realism. 8/9 ó 9/22; (404) 266-2636,

The Atlanta Artists Center hosts the Fourth Annual National Juried Exhibition, with a variety of works in all media by artists from throughout the U.S. 8/21 – 10/2; (770) 399-0603,

Works from private collections are on view at Jackson Fine Art this month, and Jazz Giants, photographs by Herman Leonard, has been extended. Through 8/31; (404) 233-3739,

The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center features Talent Show, a large-scale exhibition honoring numerous Atlantans. Through 8/11; (404) 688-1970,

Works from more than 20 new artists and long-time favorites are on display at Lagerquist Gallery in the Annual Summer Show. Through 8/31; (404) 261-8273,

A group of artists at Aliya Linstrum Gallery present Treasures from the Collection: IV. Work from Eleanor Miller, Margaret Dyer, Scott Hill, Gerard Erley and Megan Lightell, as well as others, will be on display. 8/11 – 9/1; (404) 869-2338,

Glass works by San Francisco’s Reid Slater, landscape paintings by Larry Gray, and work from Joe Remillard’s recent stint in Italy are all on display at Trinity Gallery. 8/24 – 9/29; (404) 237-0370,

Sandler Hudson Gallery hosts two shows: síreggin with work by Lisa Beane, and Sculpture with work by Chakaia Booker. Through 9/1; (404) 817-3300,

Bill Lowe Gallery presents The Painters, an exhibition of figurative work by Brett Osborn, Richard Currier and Rose Freymuth-Frazier. The show introduces regional photographer Keiko Guest. Through 8/29; (404) 352-8114, Work by Benny Andrews is at the Museum of Contemporary Art this month through the show, A Georgia Artist Comes Home. Through 9/15; (404) 881-1109,