Jonathan Rosen had conceived an I Want Peace canvas for his solo show at Colette before the Paris terrorists attacks on November 13. The acrylic sheet to support the toile had been fabricated with the requisite cutout block lettering. He intended to cover the surface with thousands of orange foam earplugs. It would be a vibrant, double entendre addition to a series that explores desires, aspirations and confessions through familiar mixed media.
With ten days separating such unconscionable circumstances and the opening of his 'I Want to Dream' exhibition, the New York-based artist was encouraged by Colette’s Sarah Andelman that the show should, indeed, go on. If the title aligned nicely with the start of the holiday season, it became even more profound. As the Yoko Ono quote at the heart of series notes, 'A dream you dream alone is only a dream, a dream you dream together is a reality.'
But even removed of all context, Rosen’s creative concept makes a forceful first impression. All identical in size (122 cm x 183 cm), the canvases doubly communicate through their wallpaper-effect motifs and sans serif typography as negative space. I Want to be Found consists of Where’s Wally? illustrations; white feathers blanket I Want to Fly; the collage of I Want to Escape comes from Rosen’s movie ticket stubs; I Want a Cookie in blue faux fur needs no further explanation. I Want to be Expressed is arguably the most zeitgeist-y of all: 13,000 emoji stickers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rosen had established a solid career in advertising before pivoting to visual arts roughly two years ago. Like a confluence of existential crisis and imaginative outburst, he realised how much he yearned to convey feelings – from insecurity to acceptance – that were likely shared by others. Where advertising acted like a 'quick hit' of creativity, he says this process has infused him with 'creative joy'.
'With art, it’s everlasting, especially if you put a piece of yourself into it,' he tells Wallpaper*. 'Even when it gets sold and you never see it, it’s still out there in the world; whereas commercial work has a shelf life. It’s rare that you have an opportunity to make a real difference in the world.'
Which brings us back to the I Want Peace piece. Rosen and Andelman came to the conclusion that he would realise the work on site – in Paris, in the store. He bid adieu to the earplug idea; in its place, 200 beautiful vintage postcards of the city that he sourced from local flea markets (he briefly considered plastic Eiffel Tower trinkets). He completed the canvas just hours before his flight back to New York.
Meanwhile, everyone was in agreement that the proceeds should be directed to a charity that would reach victims of the attacks. The Eagles of Death Metal, who were performing at the Bataclan where the gunmen killed 89 people, have singled out the Sweet Stuff Foundation as an organisation raising funds for direct donation (it was founded in 2013 to aide music professionals suffering from illness, and supported the band’s original bass guitarist, Brian O’Connor, who survived an unspecified cancer).
Rosen notes how the conversations he had during the making of the work live on in its result (an art expert from Monaco suggested he expose the reverse side of some postcards to underscore the exchange between people). 'This piece is not mine; it is all of ours,' he says, noting that wherever it ends up (it has yet to find a buyer), 'It will forever be in Paris.'
As for moving forward, Rosen says he has approximately 100 executions conceptualised, 50–100 materials set aside that require text, and 'orphan' texts that must be matched with media. Which is to say, he wants to make this a long-term project, now more than ever. 'In the past, I didn’t dream enough out loud,' he admits. 'And we can’t allow hate and terror to take away our dreams.'