Two Artists Team up for RoCoCo

An Alameda and an Oakland artist combine their energy for an exuberant multimedia collaboration.


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Photo courtesy Modesto Covarrubias

Maybe you’ve heard of Rococo, the decorative style of 18th-century Europe? New meaning comes to the word from dynamic collaborative art duo KC Rosenberg and Modesto Covarrubias — or RoCoCo. Though not an emulation of the movement but a combination of their surnames, RoCoCo takes a conceptual path. The old movement, on the one hand, at once theatrical, dense, and fluid, draws the eye into a swirl of expressive motion. RoCoCo, on the other hand, redefines those qualities through abstract sculptural tapestry, multimedia installation, and social commentary.

The mixed-media artists — Rosenberg in Alameda and Covarrubias in West Oakland — are accomplished solo artists, but their unique collaboration is a meeting of two inquisitive minds transferred into works comprised of dense layers of fabric, disparate materials, overlapping text, and light and shadow that stir up discussion. “All our work starts from conversations about our day, about our world, and the conversations eventually lead to ideas of process, meaning, and materials,” Rosenberg said. These conversations turn to important topics of social justice, equality, and empathy — conversations RoCoCo wishes to continue with viewers. Dialogue might even begin with a title such as There Is No Why In Forgiveness, a piece responding to the church mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Rosenberg graduated from the California College of the Arts in 1987, where she is an associate professor, and completed her master’s at UC Davis in 1994. Always seeking to expand the boundaries of artist and educator, she is enrolled in a USC educational doctoral program in organizational change and leadership. But the path to get to where she is today as an accomplished artist was not an easy one. Rosenberg, born in San Anselmo, moved to Los Angeles at age 13 after the death of her mother, spending some summers in Big Sur. Discovering photography during difficult teen years, Rosenberg said that art saved her life. It kept her focused; she found her community and depends on it still.

For Covarrubias, who grew up in San Jose, he always understood that he was an artist. His sharp eye for line and form is evidence of a formal training in architectural design. “My mom thought my creative energy was best channeled through studying architecture,” he said. “So I was a good son, but I eventually found my way back to art.” Covarrubias got his degree in architecture from UC Berkeley in 1991, a BFA in photography from the SF Art Institute in 2005, and MFA from Mills College in 2009. Multimedia, photography and performance all fold seamlessly into his design sense.

As a team, they agree that the work of sculptor Eva Hesse — the 1960’s Post-Minimalist artist who combined unconventional materials often piled, twisted, and tangled together — is connective tissue with regard to their own methods and materials, but they are mostly influenced by each other’s individual work. But conversation is where it all begins, usually starting in one place and ending in quite another. “The associative strand is fantastic,” Rosenberg said, referring to the fluid nature of their process and the endless ideas. The two often repurpose their materials, taking parts from a previous work into future installations, mainly as a way to minimize the overflow of excess stuff. And they have enough collectively cogitated material to make art together for decades.

Rosenberg became aware of Covarrubias’ work six years ago while walking through the Oakland airport where he had a sculpture installation. Back at CCA as chair for the first year program, she thought of him amid a search for new teachers, and he was hired. A year later, she invited him to partner for a collaborative show at Mercury 20 Gallery in Oakland. “Because I was so taken with the light in Modesto’s work, in contrast to my heavy materiality, I thought we’d be a great match.”

From there, they on collaboration via text, meeting in person at the end to assemble the work on site for exhibition. A residence at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles in October 2017 altered that process, giving them space to meet and create together from beginning to end. Building a new vocabulary and trust, RoCoCo moved into a new phase, meeting once a week to hash out new ideas.

“It’s not just one plus one equals two,” Covarrubias said. “It’s one plus one equals 1,000. We have multiplied our capabilities.” Rosenberg added that working solo, there’s a lonely drudgery that is not a part of the romantic artistic narrative. Working with another person creates a different experience and sense of accomplishment. The duo plans to propose an upper division, collaborative course at CCA. “We have started to see a great framework for it that will involve some kind of mix between anthropology and studio practice. If the course is accepted, students will work in teams, which allows for good reflection, great risk, beautiful failure, and corrective action — perfect rich soil for learning,” Rosenberg said. They collaborate down to the last word on the purpose of art. For Rosenberg, it is always about inquiry. Covarrubias chimed in, “It is about allowing questions to bloom rather than be answered. I think that’s what art does best.”

For more information about RoCoCo, visit RoCoCoProjects.com.

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