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Roy Strassberg / Artist
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Strassberg grew up in Queens and Plainview, Long Island. He studied with ceramist Richard Zakin at the State University of New York at Oswego where he earned his BA in 1972. He went on to earn his MFA in ceramics at the University of Michigan where he studied with John Stephenson. Strassberg has exhibited extensively, both regionally and nationally, and is represented in numerous museum, corporate, and private collections including several pieces in the art museum collection of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Israel, the pre-eminent repository in the world for work related to the Holocaust.
He has held academic appointments at Memphis State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, and UNC Charlotte, where he was Chair of Art and Art History from 2001–2009. He is currently Interim Chair and Visiting Professor of Art at Appalachian State University. Strassberg resides in Davidson, North Carolina with his family—wife and fellow artist Barbara Strassberg.
Regarding the Holocaust Bone Structures
When I started making work referencing the Holocaust in 1992, my greatest challenge was to find an appropriate metaphor for examining mass murder as a subject for artistic expression. Throughout my career I have often returned to imagery that reflected upon my cultural background and my reaction to some of the unfortunate events that have occurred throughout our history, specifically the destruction and murder of the European Jews. In the early 1980’s I made a group of guard towers and concentration camp roll call pieces; simple white structures with abstract surface markings, and installations of geometric forms suggesting standing figures. When I decided to undertake the series that ultimately became the Holocaust Bone Structures, I was determined to find a simple symbolic language in that the images used were easily identifiable, but placed in contexts that were eccentric and/or peculiar to ordinary experience. The bone image emerged as a way of suggesting that this work, when seen in context, could ultimately be construed as a symbol of death on a gigantic scale; in a word, genocide. The work is consciously ambiguous so as to avoid specific narrative, but the complex assembling that occurs in most of the pieces is reflective of this huge undertaking. The use of color posed an interesting question in the work. Perhaps this is a general cliché but my understanding of the Holocaust is in black and white. It seemed inappropriate to make the work “attractive” in a traditional sense. As I have stated to my students on occasion, sometimes you have to give yourself permission to make “ugly” work when it is driven by events that are not particularly appealing. The House and Chimneys, Enclosures, and Angel forms are the most recent iteration of the Holocaust Bone Structure series.
My pots are similar to my sculpture in that they are derived from a variety of sources including aerial and topographical photographs of industrial and rural environments, mid century “modern design", maps, rivers, wire enclosures, American and European modernist painting, sculpture, (in addition to the entire panoply of 20th century art history), English urban pottery, etc. I make a conscious effort to use the vessel as a containment and presentation device for the gestural mark making on the surface, but in the end the entire body of work is a reflection of the same content as the sculpture.