John Rozelle’s Sanga Series represented at St. Louis Art Museum and Salon 53


View images of John Rozelle’s work at his website by the same name and also at Sanaa Productions where you’ll find marvelous collages for sale.

“Well, its like jazz: you do this and then you improvise.”—Romare Bearden

Rozelle has long lived by the slogan “Every symbol tells a story,” and he’s become quite an accomplished practitioner of that philosophy. On the whole, “Sanga” finds the artist successfully continuing his quest for new and intriguing examples of a cryptic language.
(Jeff Daniels, ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, Sunday, October 15, 2000)


Rozelle says that a de Kooning show at Washington University showed him a language…and now it is an honor to be on the same floor at the St. Louis Art Museum.

How does it feel to see the work again? In graduate school when he worked, he let it all go. Now, he is hoping to get back to that place of freedom again.

Lessons come from everywhere. Through a chance meeting with Oliver Jackson…a conversation lasting perhaps 25 minutes…changed the course of his work.

Artist John Rozelle works with color, shape, materials, and tells the story of what comes from the Mali tradition. John Rozelle and Phillip Hampton cheerfully admit they “stole” from each other, grinning that when it comes to color and dealing with light they are co-students of each other’s work. My feeling is that Rozelle was affected by the light in Africa, where he journeyed three times.

Coming out of graduate school at Fontbonne, Rozelle went to Lagos, Nigeria, in search of West African cultural translations. But, because of a visa slip, he missed the midnight train to Bamako. “This series is the next best thing.”

“My work lends itself to a continuum of common African object-making practices. I share this mixed media experience with many other artists, but find it in abundance among African American artists. I try to find spiritual connections in object-making. My African sensibilities…[merge with]… contemporary social/political concerns…[just as] objects in use in African societies [do] where traditional practices exist today.”

View images from the Sanga Series by clicking here.

Rozelle’s Sanga Series Statement says:

Sanga is a term that means “ornament.”

The Sanga region is geographically located in Mali, West Africa, above and below the Bandiagara Cliffs in the Séno Plain. It is the home of the Dogon people and also the location of this work. Often when artists respond to external stimuli the corresponding internal vision reflects various components of the stimuli. Whether the physical manifestations record facts or flights of fancy, they are in direct relation to the responding vision.

The Dogon people of Mali, is perhaps the most studied cultural group on the African continent. Members of an outcast group in the village work as blacksmiths, wood and leather craftsmen. Artist types on the outside.

The Dogon ontology myths are both complex and rich. Their symbolic interpretation of the universe in which all persons are described as both male and female in body and in psyche. In some of their ancestral worship, representations in wooden masks include manifestations as vertical adornments in cruciform. This is the Kanaga mask, which is danced in re-creation of the origins of the world. In the dance the vertical shafts are touched to the ground, symbolizing terra reaffirmation.

For the Dogon, the creation of the world is a long myth, seems that a cosmic egg was hatched to release spirits called Nommo who created mankind. The cosmic egg originally contained twins who were to become perfect androgynous beings. Because one of the twins broke out of the egg prematurely, this plan did not hatch so to speak. Humans are forced to live with the imperfection of two sexes; males and females come together in sexual union in imitation of the archetype perfection of the original creation. The Nommo descended from the sky at the beginning of time. Eight pairs of opposites represent the Nommo. Black and white squares on the Kanaga mask.

I have been interested in the Dogon for a long time. My introduction came from an artists group called BAG (Black Artist Group), in STL back in the late sixties and early seventies. You may be well aware of them. Oliver Jackson was one of the visual artists. Some of the musicians became know as the World Saxophone Quartet. Jackson has used Nommo symbols in many paintings. One of his cohorts, Julius Hemphill recorded an LP, call Dogon AD. Their primary supporter Donald Suggs, was an African art dealer and collector. He perhaps, initiated the group to more meaningful understandings of traditional African objects and spiritual connections.

Using the black and white squares as a symbol of life strategies, I formed a loose connection with the Dogon. Life in general, with its complexity of decisions is equated to one or the other choices. Each decision results in a foreseeable/unforeseeable future. I began to work on numerous visual equivalents of eight pairs of opposites in dark and light some time ago. Mixed media/collage, in this work is considered from African usage, value added, it is a perfect vehicle. The process orientation of this work is a place for spiritual connections.


Important note for a more intimate viewing opportunity: John Rozelle’s work is also on view at Salon 53 in St. Louis, Missouri. Interested viewers may reply to me through my contact form. I pledge to send this information on to Freida Wheaton so she can make an appointment for you at Salon 53. Please provide your full name, complete address and phone number. Freida will contact then contact you.


Where he’s been and where he’s going to

“Duende,” a Spanish term that speaks of one’s ability to transmit profoundly felt emotions with a minimum of fuss and maximum of restraint, is the pivotal point of John Rozelle’s work.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, John Rozelle holds a B.F.A. with major emphasis in painting and minor concentration in sculpture from Washington University and a M.F.A. in the same media from Fontbonne College. John Rozelle is currently tenured Associate Professor in the Drawing and Painting Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Prior to joining the Art Institute faculty he taught drawing, design, painting, and sculpture as an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Fontbonne College. Rozelle has served on numerous occasions as curator, juror, and artist-in-residence for several exhibitions. His twenty five years of solo and group shows have included those in New York City, Memphis, Philadelphia, Washington D. C., Fort Worth Texas, Chicago, St. Louis, Atlanta, Memphis and Los Angeles.

A prolific painter and collagist, Rozelle has been awarded top honors and his work is housed among various corporate and public collections. In 1990, he was recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His other awards include an international travel grant and Artist in Residency for research in West Africa by the Chicago Artist International Program of the Department of Fine Arts, City of Chicago. In 1989, he was an Artist-in-Residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem . He was awarded a Creative Artists Project Grant in 1988 by the Missouri Arts Council; he won “First Prize/Painting” and “First Prize/Best of Show” for his exhibits at the “Black Creativity” exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, in 1987 and 1985. In 1998, Rozelle was commissioned to install the Middle Passage Project at the ‘Dred Scott Courthouse’ in St Louis, MO. Since joining the faculty at the School of the Art Institute, he has been awarded four Faculty Enrichment Grants, (1995, 1998, 1999, and 2000) along with a RAP Grant, 1992, Regional Artists Projects and a CAP Grant, 1996, Chicago Artists Projects. In 2005 Rozelle was Artist in Residence at the Roger Brown Facility of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Corporate collectors include: Barnes/Jewish Hospital, Anheuser Busch, Citibank Corp., AT&T/SBC, Borg-Warner, Price Waterhouse, Saks Fifth Avenue, the Seven-Up Company, Ralston Purina, the Renaissance Radisson and Westin Hotels and ARCO. Museum collections include the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Margaret Harwell Museum, Spertus Museum, The Studio Museum in Harlem, California Afro-American Museum and The Museum of African American Art, Philadelphia and Tampa. John Rozelle’s work joined Ambassador Pamella Bridgewater in Cotonou, Benin for the duration of her foreign tour 2000 – 2003. Rozelle had a temporary site-specific installation under the historical Eads Bridge for the Bi-State Development Agency in 1996.

John Rozelle continues on a large body of work the uses the concept of the ‘blues’ as a fundamental guide for constructing two and three dimensional objects. His studio work includes other objects for group and solo exhibitions.

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One Comment

  1. As I read about John Rozelle and his many accomplishments I can’t help but be inspired. The fact that I am currently pursuing my BA in Fine Art at Fontbonne University were Rozelle also studied and taught deepens the pride and honor I feel.

    It seems the Universe always provides us with the encouragement, inspiration and assistance we need at the precise time we need it most and this little boost came for me none too soon. Thank you for providing information on such an inspiring artistic spirit.

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