Like the armless goddesses of ancient Grecian ruins, there’s a certain aura that belongs only to beautiful, broken things. Away from the confines of precision, the rough edges reveal a new level of vulnerability and intimacy. This graceful brokenness takes on modern resonance for New York-based artist Esther Rosa, who creates introspective paper clay artworks made of flaws and fractures. “I want to express through composition and materials how to love imperfections,” Rosa says.
This focus is deeply informed by the artist’s background as a psychologist who worked for years in corporate human resources in her native Madrid. “I’ve always loved the study of minds and the inner workings of people,” she says. Moving across the Atlantic to New York City with her family in 2006, however, sparked a sea of change in more ways than one. “I really wanted to have something of my own,” recalls Rosa, who then enrolled in art classes to help “calm my mind and think clearly about what I wanted to do next.” What began as an exploratory side project soon illuminated a path forward, nurturing emotional openness for herself and others through her art practice.
To develop her own visual language, she experimented with various mediums, from dreamy acrylic paintings to delicate drip and egg-like sculptures made from wax, Hydrocal or resin. Most recently, her focus has shifted to paper clay, which she found to best express the emotive potential of her signature fractures. “I needed a material to build layers and get those accidental cracks without forcing them,” explains Rosa. “This allows me to get the shadows, creating that nuance of movement from the light to the dark.”
Rosa’s handmade paper clay is a slurry of tissue, plaster, glue and pigments, favoring ethereal soft whites “to focus the viewer on how light interacts with the shapes and edges,” says the artist. After the final mixture is flattened out to dry, she then layers the paper clay across boards coated with metallic pigments, which peak through the fissures. The effect echoes the Japanese art of kintsugi, where cracked pottery is bonded together again in gold. These graceful tears play out differently in other pieces, where she’ll rip and layer the sheets in large folds or small, delicate petals.
Finding such gentleness in chaos and uncertainty has only grown more profound since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has ravaged both Madrid and her adopted home of New York. Before this era of social distancing and isolation, “the life we all had with the daily tasks and responsibilities didn’t facilitate us to stop,” says Rosa. So for the artist, watching the whole world pause as an act of care only affirms “the need to take the time to stop, observe and question. To find moments for yourself where you can hear your own mind.”