Let’s get angry

Wendy Rose
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An examination of power and abuse of power, Bill Rose’s Cross Examination is steeped in the artist’s trademark dark humour

Visual artist Bill Rose’s upcoming exhibit this weekend is as much a social experiment as it is an art display.

Titled Cross Examination: I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, the show focuses on power and abuse of power, in both the religious and political realms of our society.

Rose’s views, as expressed through oil paint and mixed media, portray notable political and religious figures in a significantly different light than what we normally see in both media and pop culture.

The artist knows his views are controversial. Rose says he will likely take some flak for his opinions when his works go on display at the Marriott in St. John’s June 8, but he’s willing to take it, if it prompts viewers to question their views of certain authoritative and renowned figures.

Cross Examination was influenced by a series of award-winning articles written last summer by Telegram reporter Barb Sweet.

One article told a grim tale of two twin boys who were emotionally, physically and sexually abused at the hands of Christian Brothers of Ireland at Mount Cashel orphanage.

Rose, who hails from Placentia, knew the families of the abused boys, who are from the same area of Newfoundland. The tragic tales of abuse that have come out of the woodwork of Mount Cashel over the years have tormented Rose, prompting the artist to express himself in the best way he knows: on canvas.

“The show was inspired by that article, but the works weren’t. Some of these works are 20 years old,” Rose said, gesturing towards the multitude of pieces which adorn his studio walls. “Even though the work goes 20 years back, I put them together to fit the article. And some were created because of the article.

“I put them together to sort of fit the theme, but it’s also about entertainment. You don’t want to put up 25 paintings that are about doom and gloom. I’m hoping there’s humour there.”

But Rose also hopes to ruffle a few feathers with the show.

“What I’m trying to do is get across the idea of the enormity of this whole thing that’s happening in the Catholic Church. And it’s still happening. I speak about the Catholic Church, because I grew up in it,” Rose explained.

“It’s just horrendous. I find it really hard to think people my age are still going to church and still giving money to the church, because it’s all about money and power,” Rose said, referring to the latest developments in the Mount Cashel case.

More than 160 of the 400 claims filed against the Christian Brothers of Ireland involve Newfoundlanders, many of whom were residents of the orphanage.

“They come out and they say they’re all about healing and stuff like that, but only after they gave millions of dollars to their lawyers to try to protect their money,” Rose said. “I was just amazed that people are not as pissed off as I am.

“You can get angry, but the good thing about being an artist is that you can express it. You can get it out there,” Rose said.

“Sometimes there’s humour in my work, but sometimes it just gets so dark that you have to have humour to express it. It’s a black humour, but you have to do it.”

The unpredictable public reaction to Rose’s work has changed the way he operates. After taking the business of selling art into his own hands, Rose and his business partner, Peter Coombs, now have the freedom to display what they want, where they want, whenever they want.

“A lot of dealers wouldn’t show this work,” Rose said. “My feeling is that it was a little too edgy. The art world, especially the commercial gallery art world, is very conservative. The collectors are out to buy certain things and I guess those who own the galleries don’t want to insult their collectors. Now, I don’t want to insult anyone, either, but I want to express myself.”

A portrait of Jesus Christ stamped out of dollar signs is sure to raise a few eyebrows, while a portrait of Mother Teresa made of Playboy bunny symbols might make viewers question how saintly the saint of the Catholic Church really was.

A stamped portrait of Pope John Paul II, whom Rose refers to as “the superstar Pope,” is framed by a childlike border of balloons and birthday streamers, emblazoned with the words “Come on-a my house, my house, I’m gonna give u candy.”

A five-foot-tall portrait of Keith Richards titled “His Satanic Majesty” reinforces Rose’s declaration that rock ’n’ roll is his religion.

The artist knows that some will find humour where others will find complete and utter blasphemy.

“If it makes me laugh, it will make at least one other person laugh. I don’t always know why. Sometimes I’ll try to explain a piece but, you know, if I could do that I would be a writer instead of a painter,” Rose said. “It’s what I feel is right at the time and I enjoy doing it.

“This is my way of having fun while still remaining very serious,” he continued.

“I want people to laugh at it or get upset. No reaction is the worst reaction.”

Organizations: Christian Brothers, Catholic Church, Marriott

Geographic location: Mount Cashel, Ireland, Placentia Newfoundland

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