MARK ROSSI IS A SCULPTER OF THE SOUTHWEST with a national reputation earned from more than three decades of casting the region’s personalities and images from nature into bronze permanence.
His creations now inhabit the landscape from which they were originally drawn, be it the giant jackrabbits in Tempe, the javelins group at the Desert Museum or the more than 40 pieces commissioned for placement at the visitors center at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.
He works from a studio of unassuming façade a little north of Grant near Speedway. But inside, as I found on a recent visit, it’s as if the artist’s mind has taken on physical form in an explosion of objects and works in progress crowding the walls, benches and floor.
A giant Chuckwalla lizard head dominates one table, a proliferation of red clay works of birds, mammals and reptiles are seemingly scattered about, two rattlesnake figures fairly slither across one work table near a life sized portrait of a distinguished looking man. The eye is besieged. Chaos. And on closer examination, the beauty Rossi painstakingly imparts to the details that make up the whole of his art.
Chaos, Rossi says, is the first impression offered by the natural world. But beauty, he has learned, “is mother nature’s grandmother.” His work distills the elegant from the confused, discovers the simple in the complex, finds beauty in chaos.
“Our family always lived near open land,” Rossi says, “on a creek in Colorado, in woods in Oklahoma, and at Catalina State Park when I first moved to Tucson. I’ve spent a lot of time in the desert.”
And he spent a lot of time at the side of his father, Southwestern artist and sculptor Paul Rossi, also former Director of the famed Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa. The influence runs to the third generation, as Mark’s sons Karl and Thomas are both artists in their own right. (Visit their website here.)
Part of the reason for the proliferation in Rossi’s studio is that he likes to work on large and small pieces at the same time. It’s his way of avoiding the artist’s pitfall of sketching and erasing the same drawing so frequently that the work is destroyed. “It keeps my hand energized and free enough” to work fluidly, he says.
His work can now regularly be found at galleries from Vermont to California, Florida to Idaho. It is an attraction at our own Reid Park Zoo and at counterparts in Philadelphia and San Diego.
And even though he has done hundreds and even thousands of individual pieces, no formulaic restriction characterizes his work. “I think I’m sticking my neck out on everything I do,” he says.
Finally, for Rossi, there’s the satisfaction that the beauty he’s captured from nature is realized in bronze, giving his work as permanent a life as this life allows.