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Yale 62

About This Work

By Stephen Rose

Text, paintings, a studio tour and an interview.

So painting, no matter the level on which one is working, is first of all a hobby.

We all become draftsmen of a sort as soon as we start learning to write.

Many of us never even doodle while some make art into a religion of sorts which it turns out can be very dangerous, I think, because it turns out to be no more, in my opinion, than any other vanity.

I used to imagine that art was very important, that it showed the way so to speak, but I came to understand that the culture manifested the art rather than the other way around.

I turned to art as my path in New York City during the early Fall of 1963.

I was taking a year leave of absence from the architecture school, primarily because I hadn’t completed the last design project very well and was incomplete in a rendering course, neither of which I felt motivated to work on over the summer.

I got a wonderful job in an architect’s office (through a Yale connection) and three weeks into it, talking to a tile salesman, I decided that Nope, architecture wasn’t it for me at all.

I’d rather be a painter.

Pity the parents.

All those years that I thought of myself as pre-architecture, I had no idea at all about how architecture was actually made, and it turned out I wasn’t suited for it at all.

Way too complicated an art.

Plato at Yale had rung a bell in me.

I think I realized there Freshman year that right there in that cave was all I was really interested in.

The pursuit of that ideal.

The oneness, somehow.

I had a couple of design courses at Yale, a couple of drawing courses and I fumbled around in one graduate painting studio, but it was in the Albers color course that I first got stung by art making and discovered that even as a rank beginner I could make stuff that held its own occasionally with the graduate students.

(All our studio art courses were in with the graduate students.)

And I continued drawing in architecture school.

I consulted Professor Scully senior year about the decision to go to art or architecture school.

I showed him some of my work, and he recommended architecture.

Painting was considered self-indulgent.


Much easier to leave architecture for art rather than the reverse.

But in New York it never occurred to me to return to graduate art school.

de Kooning and the abstract expressionists were high.

I was in the mecca and I felt found.

It was liberating and thrilling even though I had literally no idea how to proceed, and though I was doing some work within five or six years that was mine, it’s only recently that I’ve understood the whole of it.

It’s astonishing now what a great difference there was among us at Yale in intellectual as well as emotional maturity.

I hadn’t quite realized it, because I had spent my high school years in sports and social life, but fine arts were deeply ingrained in me.

My father was a designer, devoted photographer and darkroom lover, his brother a world famous textile designer.

My paternal grandfather was a builder, maternal grandmother was a classically trained pianist.

My father’s sisters were both very musical, one with a beautiful voice, and even though I took no art courses in high school, I had also never been much of a reader.

I decided on architecture pretty much because in addition to loving modern buildings, I had been a wiz in eighth grade “mechanical drawing.”

Outside of my feelings for the field because of my Dad and uncle’s work, that was it.

There wasn’t much else to it.

My dad had taken me to visit an architect’s office once, but I don’t think I even had a question to ask in mind.

Nothing happened there and we never talked about it.

By the Fall of 1963, I’m sure my parents had no idea what to do with me, but they knew for sure that I felt inspired and there really wasn’t much to talk about.

My mom on a visit to the city once said “Not everyone who goes off to Tahiti becomes Gauguin,” and it’s true, but beside the point to someone who wants to be Gauguin.

My Dad once said, many years later but still not quite getting it, “How good of an artist do you really think you are?” and without ever consciously figuring out an answer to the question, what came out was, “Dad, you can only,” and we finished the sentence in unison, ” be as good as you are.”

We’re limited by our own taste, learning and understanding.

We go as far as we can with what we have.

That’s a self realized artist, wherever they end up (and my personal belief is that if we really do that, if we truly please ourselves, the result will be decent).


Worthy of a wall somewhere.

So these few paintings here are a few of my recent efforts in a lifetime project to penetrate the essence of what painting can and should be for me.

I have shown some of my work to a few connected people through the years but very half-heartedly.

It’s like I’ve sensed all along that this was a long, wide ranging work, experimental in spirit, and, in honor of my ambition for it, I shouldn’t try to impress…not that it would have made a difference.

I’ve received some ecstatic responses, here and there, but just as often have underwhelmed.

I’ve made a few large pieces through the years but have generally had to work on a relatively small scale, simply because I’ve wanted to work through many different ideas.

In the end, I finally understood that I needed to embrace them all, separately and/or at once.

It doesn’t matter at all.

This is the anti-academic approach.

There are many different kinds of painters but I’m the kind that just wants to revel in the paint, just wants to be free and enjoy it in that magic way.

My biggest struggle, coming out of suburbia and Yale, has been to overcome conceptual inhibition.

“You can’t do that. That’s stupid. You should do this.”

I’ve discovered that the key for me is to do exactly what I want but to keep working on things past the point of formal resolution until that bell goes off, and one feels personally connected and physically restrained from touching the painting.

It may seem unfinished later, but there’s nothing more disheartening than to do too much and ruin something that was special.

Some may also notice that these paintings have been done within a kind of performance art aesthetic.

In fact I did do performance art one point in the 60s.

But it seemed unbalancing in the end.

Pictures are nice in that they know their place very well (on walls).

They don’t demand that much.

In the end one does this kind of work for oneself.

I’ve been very lucky to find ways to live along the way wherein I could indulge the pleasure, but really I would have pursued painting even if it was just with mud on rocks.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a couple of high school teachers and the admissions office at Yale (when I visited) might have sensed something like that in me.

I can’t see any other reason why they would have taken me.

My grades and tests weren’t extraordinary at all.

A sampling of my paintings
All paintings are oil on canvas.


A tour of my studio


The Y62 Interview: Steve Rose speaks with Communications Team member Dick Riseling


We welcome your comments below.

4 comments to Steve Rose

  • Frederick Appell

    Dear Steve,
    sounds like an interesting career. I like the “breakthrough” 10.20.20 I guess because it
    Is easier to relate to the art traditions which organize visual space: composition, advancing and receding colors, etc

    I studied art history st Yale and wrote about art as a critic for the newspaper.
    Now I’m taking the challenge of doing meaningful images myself.
    It took me a while to answer the call to share my work with Y ’62 last month.

    I’m glad you decided to share your work with us.
    Thank you.

  • Norman Jackson

    Beautiful stuff, Steve! Thanks for ‘talking about it’ and sharing!

    All the best,