World War II

Celebrating Arthur Rothenberg: A Post-World War II Artistic Journey

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Arthur S. Rothenberg, a name etched into the annals of American art history, emerged as a luminary figure in the post-World War II era. His multifaceted talents spanned the realms of combat artistry, ceramic painting, watercolors, and resist ink techniques. Born on March 28, 1918, in New York City, Rothenberg’s life and works became emblematic of resilience, creativity, and a profound celebration of the human spirit.

Rothenberg’s artistic journey commenced with a foundation laid at New York University and further honed through training at prestigious institutions such as the McClane Art Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the School of Design in Chicago, and the Pratt Institute in NYC. However, it was his experiences during World War II that would indelibly shape his artistic vision.

Commissioned as a combat artist with the Army Airforce in England, Rothenberg bore witness to the ravages of war. Yet, amidst the chaos and destruction, he found solace in his craft, capturing poignant moments with his brushstrokes. His tenure in England was not solely dedicated to combat artistry; he was used to restore damaged stained glass windows in England and also imparted his knowledge by teaching painting in London and conducting museum tours for the US Information Service.

Post-World War II, Rothenberg’s artistic prowess blossomed in various domains. His tenure as an Art Director at LOOK Magazine provided a platform for his creative ingenuity, as he lent his talents to national accounts like Helena Rubenstein, Seagram Liquors, Scandinavian Airlines, and Burberry. While working at those institutions, Rothenberg began trying to “paint” stained glass windows by using glazes and a paint brush to create tile paintings that appeared to be stained glass. Over two decades, he left an indelible mark in art direction, advertising and publishing, contributing articles to esteemed publications like Craft Horizons and Ceramics Monthly.

A defining aspect of Rothenberg’s oeuvre was his innovative approach to the resist ink technique, a method he pioneered alongside his friend and fellow artist Federico Castellon. This technique involved painting on a black background using “cheap white” paint, allowing for later coloring. Waterproof black ink delineated outlines, ensuring that subsequent watercolors would not adhere to the black ink. The final touch involved waxing the painting, imparting an oil-like finish—a meticulous process that underscored Rothenberg’s commitment to craft.

The 1950s through the 1970s witnessed Rothenberg’s foray into ceramic painting on 6-inch white tiles imported from England. Having witnessed the restoration of stained glass windows from bombed churches during WWII, he sought to recreate the stained glass aesthetic in his works. Employing glazes and thick black lines, his ceramic paintings exuded a luminous quality reminiscent of stained glass windows.

Rothenberg’s ceramic tile works, including “The Fishermen,” “Village Ladies,” “The Travelers,” and “The Concert,” among others, became emblematic of his artistic legacy. Each piece bore testimony to his mastery of form, color, and narrative, offering viewers glimpses into worlds both real and imagined.

Beyond the realm of art, Rothenberg’s passion for sailing was palpable. As a founder and charter member and Commodore of the Hempstead Bay Sailing Club and one of the founders of the East Hampton Yacht Club, he found respite and inspiration in the vast expanse of the sea—a motif that often found expression in his works.

Rothenberg’s artistic journey was punctuated by numerous exhibitions, each serving as a testament to his enduring impact on the art world. From solo showcases at prestigious galleries like the Belgis-Freidel Gallery in New York City and the Guild Hall Museum in Easthampton to group exhibitions at institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Art Directors Club of New York, his works resonated with audiences far and wide. His entry of the Lobsterman in the Guild Hall competition won best of show for which he was awarded a one-man show the following summer. 

In retrospect, Arthur S. Rothenberg’s celebratory work post-World War II stands as a testament to the transformative power of art in the face of adversity. Through his brush strokes and ceramic tiles, he imbued the world with beauty, hope, and resilience, leaving an indelible mark on the canvas of history. As we reflect on his life and legacy, we are reminded that art has the power to transcend boundaries, unite hearts, and inspire generations to come.

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