Mind the Gap
- Acrylic on wood panel , 2018
12 x 8 x 4 in
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My work owes a lot to optical illusions. When I first saw the Ebbinghaus illusion, I thought, That’s what abstract painting should be doing–exploring how the brain works! The paintings of Josef Albers and John McLaughlin function that way: a deeper mind/eye exploration, really, than the entire Op Art crew.
Cities and pillars:
I was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island, and I presently live and work in Southern California. My formative years as an artist were in New York City [he earned a BFA from New York’s Cooper Union and an MFA from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art], and I think I’ve pretty much carried those early New York School values wherever I ended up. On the other hand, living in rural Virginia for 17 years reintroduced the natural world in a very big way. [Roth was the director of Solvent Space in Richmond and taught at Virginia Commonwealth University] Nature is simply the best. While it can never be outdone, it is an important new source for me. (Recently, I’ve been blown away by a book on caterpillars!)
My painting demands . . . :
My painting demands a stark vocabulary, but it involves play, the quotidian, and the "retinal." Abstraction that flirts with popular culture, my work aspires to be part of the community of objects that includes West African fabric patterns, Zulu baskets, Navajo blankets, early American quilts, Day of the Dead masks, bird decoys, Shaker furniture, Indonesian bamboo fish traps, Prouvé chairs, George Ohr pots, Carlo Scarpa glassware, Japanese rice boxes, Luis Barragán houses, Raf Simons fashion, Cervélo racing bicycles, contemporary Ghanaian coffins, street fashion, and monster trucks. And, oh yes, my work knows it can’t escape the community of all the paintings and artworks that ever existed—a thought that can drive one to distraction.
My painting is . . . :
Cool with style, the bad kind, like in fashion, trends, and stylin’. Or, in the words of others:
“Style and structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.”
– Vladimir Nabokov
“Style is a simple way of saying complicated things.”
– Jean Cocteau
“Style, neurologically, is the deepest part of one’s being.”
– Oliver Sacks
My work has . . . :
My work has more in common with a Modernist chair than a Baroque painting.
I like to imagine that I am no different than the early humans who scratched geometric zigzag patterns into mollusk shells 500,000 years ago.
Though I love form and structure in painting, I don’t consider myself a modernist strictly concerned with the purity of form. I feel naturally aligned with more playful postmodern attitudes. Form, yes. Formalism, no.
I gave up painting for collecting in 1993 because I expected too much of painting. Painting could never live up to what I needed it to be. At that time, I decided to steer far from painting, and instead study and learn from the world, the endlessly amazing world, through making collections. Anthropology teaches us that all activities and artifacts express a culture, not just the “highest.” Quotidian customs and rituals are as significant as exalted religious ceremonies. I love such things as custom cars, fashion, and the culinary arts, but in 1993 was embarrassed by the pretentiousness of my own culture—painting. It wasn’t until I could see painting as just another subculture, not as the culture, not as high culture, that I could re-enter it with full enthusiasm and without cynicism.
Now I feel free to engage with painting, with its complexity and contradictions. Doubt and certainty, playful engagement and tedium, breakthroughs and deadlock all coexist in the studio (as in life) and contribute to making simple gestures rich carriers. I can’t imagine a serious painter today who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with painting. I believe, the poet James Dickey wrote, “Love-hate is stronger than either love or hate.”
Over the years I have vacillated between the force fields of Mondrian and Duchamp, sometime closer to one, sometime closer to the other. Now I want to be fearlessly retinal!