Becoming a nationally appreciated and acclaimed artist from San Diego is tough. It isn't an uncommon occurrence for an artist to make a name for themselves here and then quickly move on to the cultural greener pastures of Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York.
So it's strange to learn that sculptor Doron Rosenthal had much the opposite experience. Born in Arcadia and raised primarily in Los Angeles, he became enamored with the deserts of Mexico and, more pressingly, the Anza-Borrego State Park. Rosenthal had already been working in stone when he moved to San Diego in 1980 to be closer to his desert muses. As he writes in his recently released and dutifully complied new book, 36 Years in Stone and San Diego (Anza Borrego Press), "Desert air feeds me and clears me and makes me feel safe. It's more than an inspiration; it's a place I go to feel alive."
Over the course of three decades, Rosenthal has channeled this inspiration into masterfully assembled stone, glass and metal (but mostly stone) sculptures that range in size and scope. Inspired by ruins he saw on a family trip to the Middle East when he was 10, Rosenthal's work is chronologically compiled and documented in 36 Years in Stone and the works are accompanied by archival photographs that serve both as a reflection of the times and a window into the artist's process. Finding his proverbial canvases inside quarries and long abandoned places, Rosenthal rejected modern tools and used old-fashioned chisels and smoothing techniques that resulted in a pristine but no less jagged finished product.
Pithy interludes from the artist are included at the beginning of each of the chapters in the book, detailing the processes that went into his sculptures and the inspiration he drew from the rejection letters he received from places like the Museum of Contemporary Art. Readers might be surprised to learn Rosenthal is the artist responsible for the "Fossils Exposed" series of sidewalk carvings that people walk over every day in Hillcrest.
Rosenthal was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and 36 Years in Stone serves as a subtle reminder of what a treasure we've had in our midst. He chose the barren landscapes of the desert over greener pastures, and San Diego is all the better for it. As he states in the second chapter, "Regardless of the raw materials, tools and process, the finished works were something to move on from; I always look to the future and my next project. And continue the process."
Here's to another 36 years.