Ever Wonder About the Strangers You Pass Every Day? One Artist Has Set Out to Document Them

Anyone who lives in a reasonably sized city or town comes into regular contact with strangers who become recognizable over time: the mailman, next-door neighbors, joggers on the running trail, parents at the park. The Norwegian artist Elin Rødseth has built a body of work around exploring who these people are and how they become familiar to us.

“I am interested in the people we meet daily, but who we do not know,” says Rødseth. “The Extras. The passersby on the streets, our unknown creepy neighbors and the baristas.” It’s only appropriate that her new show at Owen James Gallery in Brooklyn is called “Passersby.” On first glance, some of the figures she portrays—a man walking a dog, a person tying his shoes, two men outside a Duane Reade drugstore—could be the passersby in anyone’s life. But look closer. Despite their familiar outlines, most of the figures are eerily faceless. 

It’s an effect that Rødseth achieves through highly deliberate artistic processes. She works primarily in woodcut and photopolymer, the latter a form of printmaking that involves using a photograph to create plates. Both techniques are complex and time-consuming, giving the artist plenty of time to manipulate color, line, and texture. It’s a medium, Rødseth says, that allows her to create distance between the photographed image and the final artwork: “What appears on the paper is a peeled, distant and mirrored version of the original.”

That distance—the blankness of the faces and often the backgrounds, the sketchy look of forms and figures—produces an intriguing effect for the viewer, especially when combined with purposefully non-descript titles like Passersby 4 (2013), Men (2015), Bystander 3 (2015), and Neighbor II (2015). It incites the same curiosity that prompted Rødseth to work on the series in the first place. The idea that the concept of “the other” is universal—and, in fact, that “the other” is only relative, that we are all strangers to someone—is thought-provoking, no matter who you are or where you live.

Bridget Gleeson

Passersby” is on view at Owen James Gallery, Brooklyn, Mar. 12–Apr. 18, 2015.

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