NC artist finds inspiration in love, Puerto Rican roots

Artist Samantha Rosado didn’t know what to expect last year when she moved to Charlotte from Louisiana.

She came here with her girlfriend, who is studying for her MBA. But aside from being close to her loved one’s family, Rosado, 28, didn’t have much that tied her to the city.

A year later, it is more rooted in the queen city while being at an artistic crossroads.

Her strong relationship, a studio at the McColl Center, and a teaching position at Central Piedmont Community College led Rosado to a new stage as an artist. Rosado has always focused his art on his own experience.

As a gay woman whose family originated in Puerto Rico, she often paints herself in the same vivid forms she uses for portraits of her family, fiancee, and pets. His paintings celebrate the comfort of days spent slumped in the living room and the joy of multigenerational family reunions.

But now she has reconsidered that.

Rosado said she always knew she wanted to be an artist and that her family hadn’t objected to her representing them over the years.

She developed caricatures of each of them, emphasizing the differences in each’s smile or taking care to depict them in familiar palettes. Bold layers of paint make their strokes jump from the canvas towards the viewer.

These are happy scenes, often with loved ones hugging and laughing together. But she wants the love to be apparent even in her darkest scenes.

Last year, she titled her Louisiana State University MFA thesis project “Si tiene su 401(k), it’s OK to be gay!”

His father inspired the joke. He and other family members have been supportive of Rosado and his sister since the siblings came out as gay, Rosado said. But there’s still an added layer of newness to navigating as a Hispanic lesbian, even with an accepting family.

It would be dishonest to hide that, Rosado said. But she never wants her loved ones — be it this family, Puerto Ricans, or the queer community — to be judged because of her work.

So while she always draws inspiration from her own life and describes her relationships with the people living there, she has tried to limit herself to the aspects of her loved ones that she has witnessed firsthand.

“It’s not really for me to say, I’m starting to think about it,” Rosado said. “And there’s so much of mine that I can talk about instead.”

Take his latest project, on display at C3 Lab, a gallery space in the South End.

Two bar stools, borrowed from the restaurant adjoining the gallery, provide perches for visitors to sit in front of five stacked plates of papier-mâché delights.

Rosado crafted them during his last residency, a month-long spring stay at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Colorado. She arrived at the mountain property with few specific goals, but knew she wanted to tackle the strained relationship between food and body image.

Anderson’s deluded carpentry shop made carpentry the obvious choice, she said, and other artists helped her with new techniques.

So she carved wooden panels to mimic the counters she ate at with her family, piling her papier-mâché treats on blue plates and hovering paintings of food on wooden panels above each.

The plates feature Puerto Rican favorites from his childhood: flan, tostones, empanadas and sweet pastries.

Floating above each of them, as if to inspire a snacker’s daydream, painted wooden panels with more foods: bagel bites, royal cake, macaroni and cheese and a donut loaded with sprinkles .

These are American staples, but Rosado noted that each one comes from the kitchens of other countries. American versions, painted in feathery brushstrokes of saturated oils, listen to specific marks.

Like most of Rosado’s recent work, themes of colonialism come through the prism of his personal experiences: growing up on the continent, visiting family in Puerto Rico, going to school in Louisiana. And while food itself is a new artistic focus for her, she has often centered her self-portrait projects around her body image. Sometimes diet culture seeps into her thoughts, but she tries to avoid that.

“There are a lot of memories behind them,” Rosado said. “But… whether they’re guilt-inducing or not, these are all foods we celebrate with.” We come together and have a community around them.

Rosado hasn’t noticed much change in her style — bold texture, colorful blocks, and collage-like layouts — since moving to North Carolina. Her job kept her indoors more than she would have liked.

But even without details explicitly related to Charlotte, she noticed that the tones of her work were changing.

She’s been spending more time with her girlfriend’s younger cousins, she says, whose playfulness leads her to a vivid pastel palette. Serene shades of brown mix with pale whites and yellows to represent his bride. But the city itself has not yet crept into its work.

Yet Charlotte marks a place where Rosado’s art reintroduced itself into her own life.

Last year, his girlfriend Destiny Kasubaski rented the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art for an intricate surprise proposal. She knelt in front of a backdrop of Tryon Street and proposed with a ring that included carvings of the flowers Rosado often incorporates into his paintings.

The couple are looking for gay-friendly vendors for their upcoming wedding, committed to supporting artists within their own community.

Even the pieces Rosado made for Charlotte’s art shows will take on new life in their shared home, she hopes. Portions of woodwork she made for the C3 show will become furniture for their cat, Mowgli.

While jobs and family will dictate whether the couple stays in Charlotte long-term, Rosado said she hopes to continue digging in the city.

Between her work as a teacher and an upcoming mural gig for the Hidden Valley Community Center, her art began to spill out beyond the walls of her McColl studio, where she renewed her lease.

At the end of the next lease, Rosado expects she’s had time to let the city seep into her art – even as she reconsiders how she portrays the people in her life, the places that have bred have a way of shining.

About Wesley Williamson

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