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‘If it doesn’t sing, it just won’t work.’ How living on Lake Lanier inspires artwork of Ferdinand Rosa
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Artist Ferdinand Rosa visits the Quinlan Visual Arts Center Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, where he is showing a selection of his works in the main gallery. - photo by Scott Rogers

Ferdinand Rosa vividly remembers the moment he went from working in corporate America to sitting on a rock on the shores of Maine. The visual artist and writer will never forget that moment because it was the day he began what has been a nearly five-decade career as a working artist. 

“My co-workers took up a collection,” Rosa joked one afternoon inside the galleries at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center, where his work is on display through Feb. 11. “They all thought, ‘This guy’s crazy, he’s going to be a starving artist,’” he joked. 

Rosa was being groomed for upper management at a corporation in Connecticut, but after graduating with a business degree and working his way up the corporate ladder, it wasn’t even close to what he wanted for his life. Rosa wanted to be an artist. 

“I said no, I’m going to be an artist. And at that moment I was just starting my dream,” Rosa, 74, said.

That was 45 years ago and he hasn’t looked back. 

“I started with watercolors, selling my work at street festivals, making a meager living,” Rosa remembered. “But that allowed me to make more art.” 

These days, he and his wife, Catherine, spend half of the year on Lake Lanier in Hall County, where they’ve resided for 35 years, and the other half in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. 

“My family is here, our kids and grandkids,” said Rosa. “I still keep a studio here.”

In addition to the Quinlan’s winter exhibition, Rosa’s work is on display in The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center and Brenau University’s Simmons Visual Arts Center through March 23.

Admission is free at each location.

Collective unconscious

Lake Lanier is a constant muse for an artist who admits to relying heavily on color and getting his inspiration from the natural world around him. 

“Lake Lanier is an inspiration; I’ve seen it at sunset, and it’s just an inspiration,” Rosa said. “My feelings as a human being, as an artist, as a creative person reacting to color the way I want to see it is by getting cues from the natural world. The juxtaposition of the colors and the way they sit on the canvas next to each other or away from each other, they all feed into each other.”

Merriam-Webster defines the concept of collective unconscious, first theorized by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, as “the part of the unconscious mind which is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all mankind.” Rosa describes it as what happens when he is surrounded by nature with paints, brushes and a canvas.

“We are all tapping into the collective unconscious; everyone can do it,” he said. “We are hooked on the feeling of being in the moment.”

Upon walking into the Quinlan, a colorful piece entitled “East Shore #8” immediately greets visitors. It was inspired by a two-month residency in Westport, Maine, during the early 2000s. The memories of that time remain fond to Rosa: He would go sit in the rocks by the water and simply tune into the sea, he said. 

“The natural world inspires my work, and in Maine, I was surrounded by landscapes and seascapes,” Rosa said. “You just feel alive.” 

There is also a series inspired by time spent on Cumberland Island on display at Quinlan. 

Another piece, “San Miguel #13,” features a gray church, bright orange sun and a blue sky. The 17th century church in the painting, Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, is a prominent parish in the Mexican town the Rosas now call home. 

“Tsunami Eulogies #14” and “Abstract #3506,” both acrylic on board, are examples of Rosa’s use of color, which he calls “smart busy.”

“All my work is about the colors and how it sings in the paintings,” Rosa said. “If it doesn’t sing, it just won’t work.”

Works of Ferdinand Rosa


When: Now through Feb. 11 at the Quinlan; now through March 23 at Brenau and The Arts Council

How much: Free

What’s next 

Rosa is working on a new series of art in the neo-geometric style popularized in the 1980s — like the colorfully patterned squares and rectangles on album covers and wallpaper of old. 

The triangle is his latest obsession. 

“I’m in the triangle rabbit hole right now,” he said. “It’s a powerful symbol and has a spiritual representation. The triangle has been a big part of my work lately.”

The series, “The Irish Roots,” will focus on a recent trip to Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, where once again the natural environment played an important part in Rosa’s creative process. 

“I’m in the mountains, there’s cliffs and sheep everywhere,” Rosa said. 

He’s still working on pieces of the series. His process is to work on a series until he feels it is complete. 

“It’s still in the works, it's still cooking.”

Rosa added: “I don’t know what I’ll be doing next year, but I hope it’s exciting and if it’s not then I’ll move on to something else.”

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Artist Ferdinand Rosa visits the Quinlan Visual Arts Center Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, where he is showing a selection of his works in the main gallery. - photo by Scott Rogers