Halfway through our interview, Michael X. Rose poses a rhetorical question: “What’s better than a person dying in a painting?” His answer: “Two people dying in a painting. Once you cross that line, I think your paintings become much better.” If you’re looking for dismemberment and mayhem in art, look no further than the work of Wallkill-based artist Michael X. Rose. His paintings are filled with battling horror movie monsters, human sacrifice, satyrs running off with screaming maidens, Nazi zombies on the rampage, and other scenes of phantasmagoria. It’s like something straight out of a Strange Tales comic, and they’re weird, scary fun. Rose likens his sensibility to kitschy Roger Corman movies like The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price. “They’re not really scary,” says Rose, “but they’re supposed to be.”
Rose isn’t joking around, however. “I’m not trying to be ironic or sarcastic,” he says. He just likes to paint monsters. This led Rose to search out landscape paintings at garage sales and thrift stores that he could paint figures into. Yeti Throws My Great Grandfather from Mount Washington, British Columbia, 1913 is such a piece; Rose picked it up for $15 at the Salvation Army shop in New Paltz and filled in the figures on top of the Bob Ross-esque background. “Maybe my landscapes aren’t as good as they should be because I’m waiting to get to the red meat,” he says.
In addition to being a painter, the 45-year-old Rose is a father of seven (aged 1 to 16); an art educator; a musician (his band, Brian Wilson Shock Treatment, just released its ninth album, Operation Sun Probe); and a filmmaker (he is currently raising money via Kickstarter for a cinematic version of his paintings, Bloodlust of the Druid Overlords). Rose is also the subject of a documentary currently in production by local filmmakers Steve Scibelli and Will Joel.
Rose’s most recently completed painting is a large-scale (78” x 54”) variation on the Biblical flood, which will debut as part of a three-person show at Kingston Museum of Contemporary Art (KMOCA) in January. In the painting, the last surviving members of humanity scramble for a sole point of higher ground as the water rises—drowning people, animals, and temples indiscriminately. Of course, there’s not enough room for everyone, so those already on the rock attempt to keep the hapless masses in the roiling waters. “What’s funny about it, I think, is that even as they’re about to die, they’re murdering each other,” says Rose. “Which is what people would do, right?”