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Rill Roller

Barbara Rossi


graphite and colored pencil on board

23” x 29”

Before her career as an artist, Barbara Rossi, who was a nun, gained the Vatican’s permission to enroll in a graduate level painting program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968. Given Rossi’s early focus, it comes as no surprise that her work as an artist reveals a practice of devotion: the meticulous lines and patterns that emanate throughout her complex abstractions are time-intensive labors of love.

The act of drawing remains a meditation for Rossi, allowing her to get lost in the Zen-like, repetitive movement of pencil on paper. Her drawings are not planned, nor do they have a predetermined end. She starts with a small pattern, then builds upon the original form, resulting in an outgrowth of figural abstraction. Her drawing practice is also philosophical: she doesn’t erase any lines; instead she incorporates mistakes into the final composition. Rossi notes that life is like that: “You don’t get a chance to erase.”

After receiving her master’s degree in 1970, Rossi experimented with both textiles and printmaking while continuing to paint and draw. In her graphite and colored pencil drawing Rill Roller (1976), a network of knotted lines and patterns form an abstract landscape with passages of playful figuration. Humming along the horizon line is a tiny vehicle. Its knotted wheels move across the page as steam pours out and over its hood before assembling itself into a woven textile grid. The title Rill Roller could be a reference to a printing machine equipped with two rollers that apply patterns to flat surfaces. The large knot in the upper left appears to flatten the horizon line while the car supplies the printed pattern that is fed into the machine. A “rill” is also a geographic formation, a shallow channel through which water flows; this association suggests both landscape and navigation. Distinct from interpretation, Rill Roller is an optical journey of discovery through soft pattern and a labyrinth of lines allowing the mind to wander and engage in the simple, yet pleasurable, act of looking.


Gift of Mark and Judy Bednar