con•tin•u•um: noun, a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different
from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.
Ben Killen Rosenberg has been recording dead birds and decomposing wildlife over the last five years
of exploring the beach stretching south of Neahkahnie Mountain to the jetty outside Manzanita. On his
walks there he documents the organic material subjects that have become, in ink and watercolor, the
focus of this show.
Rosenberg describes the harsh beauty of death that requires looking deeply to accept. By documenting
in drawing and painting both his mother’s and uncle’s changing bodies as they slid from the world, the
artist came to see what his mother had long understood—death is a natural part of life. It’s an obvious
statement, but Rosenberg says it was his mother’s own curiosity about what was happening to her as
she was dying that allowed the space for his own curiosity to exist. After her death, he says, “I began to
notice the birds.”
On Christmas Eve in 2014 he found the beach littered with the bodies of hundreds of Common Murres.
They were “dead from starvation, dead from the warm waters off the coast, and for other reasons left
for scientists to study.” Rosenberg says one might simply walk past the remains of a washed up bird
or birds, step over them, and go about daily life, but that this mass die-off of Common Murres, Casein
Auklets, and Brown Pelicans was impossible for him to ignore.
The birds seem banal at first glance but what intrigued Rosenberg were the compositions created by
their bodies and their abstract beauty as they lay on the sand, surrounded by driftwood and washed up
debris. Their positions, he says, and the play of light and shadow on form and the stark beauty of death
forced him to take notice. He became like an urban archeologist, viewing the birds as fragments of unintentional design and seeing himself as a participant in an unspoken conversation. The resulting body
of work, he says, is about the transition between life and death, embracing the whole of the journey,
and not looking away.
Ben Killen Rosenberg received his BFA in printmaking from Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in 1988 and his
MFA in studio arts from PSU in 2007. He teaches at Clark College in Vancouver and has previously taught at
Clatsop Community College in Astoria, PCC, PSU, Clackamas Community College, and University of Portland.
His illustration work has been commissioned by The Portland Tribune, The New York Times, The New Yorker,
The Oregonian, Johns Hopkins University, Internal Revenue Service, Hewlett-Packard, and the Philadelphia
Daily News. Rosenberg’s work is in numerous private collections nationally and abroad, and may be seen at
www.benkillenrosenberg.com and www.benrosenbergillustration.com