This post was written by student Hillarey Dees while she was enrolled in Art Since 1960.
Stephen Rosser was raised on a ranch in Southwest Oklahoma. He was always interested in art, and pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. After he graduated he traveled to Santa Fe to show his portfolio to galleries, and soon was represented by galleries across the nation. His work garnered particular interest in the 1980s and 1990s. He returned to Oklahoma to pursue his Master of Fine Arts at the University of Tulsa, where he studied with Joe Baker. He has painted professionally for 25 years, worked in art galleries for 20 years, and has also been a professor of art at different universities. He currently (2011) teaches art courses at Tulsa Community College.
Rosser is known best for his series of paintings entitled The Cowboy and the Indian Wild West. He uses imagery from the rural environment and his upbringing in paintings while incorporating wittiness to give it a lighthearted feel. He states, “Many of my paintings have a humorous quality that comes about by twisting traditional ideas into unexpected forms. I use puns literally as well as visually. There is a wealth of materials for the painter in the subculture of the contemporary American cowboy lost in a modern world.”
Two of his works are in the Gardiner Permanent Art Collection (part of the OSU Museum of Art collection): a four-block woodcut titled Thinking Cowboy and an oil painting titled Blue Venus in Chaps. Thinking Cowboy was created at the first of a printmaking workshop series which served as a fundraiser for the OSU Art Department [now the Department of Art, Graphic Design, and Art History]. The workshop brought in a working artist once a year and they created a series of prints that were sold by annual subscription to collectors who wanted to support the arts at OSU. Thinking Cowboy presents a central figure of a cowboy in the pose of Auguste Rodin’s well-known sculpture, The Thinker. As in most of Rosser’s work, it employs bright colors and art-historical references in a whimsical manner.
Rosser’s work reminds me of artist Rina Banerjee’s sculpture, because both use art to express their relationship to, and disconnection from, their upbringing. Banerjee was born in India but has spent most of her life in New York. Some of her work relates to her detachment from her heritage, suggesting that she feels almost like a tourist when she returns to India to visit. In Take me, take me, take me… to the Palace of Love, for example, she reconstructs the Taj Mahal in a fantastical manner, with bright pink plastic wrap. Rosser has also spoken of his disconnection from his origins, saying, “When I go there, it’s just not the same. They just don’t think like I do down there.” He always felt different from the other people in the ranch community, saying he never quite fit in. Both Banerjee and Rosser mimic their past using satire and humor to satisfy their feelings as outsiders.
Quotes from Rosser are drawn from an interview between the artist and the author conducted on April 12, 2011.