steve roden, sanctuary (rorschach)
steven roden's lack of irony is ironic, but it is a sentiment shared by many younger artists in their thirties. roden embraces sentimentality, perhaps in a simple desire to define oneself differently from the '80s artworld that dismissed emotions. Today we see theory and intellectual rigor combined with sensuality.
roden, and his generation, pick up on a dialogue that began with the '78 "New Image Painting" exhibition at the Whitney Museum, which not only recognized the conflation of abstraction and representation, but also the idea of painting itself had returned to center stage, after decades of dematerialization in the '60s and '70s. roden's artistic process is about this relationship between irony and beauty or conceptual strategy and painterly gesture.
roden's rigor begins with his sorting through and coming upon graphic images which are suppose to lead us somewhere, such as maps, manuals, and textual narratives, just as theory is suppose to help us navigate through society, but then translates them into another kind of visual language, so that he can get lost on purpose, and it is this overall act of wandering which roden articulates in his work.
In the painting lumiere (all works, 1997), the background is a skin of Nineteenth Century Turner-esque drippy abstractions that our minds could easily form into various landscape forms. The foreground is a cross-word like web of superimposed French phrases. Is this a romantic eulogy to Nature? No, the phrases are from a French camera manual. However, the words and painting together form a concrete poem that illuminates the path towards meaning through free association.
The exhibit also includes a number of sculptures composed of repeating wood forms covered in colored wax, appearing to be odd musical instruments or obscure counting machines. Sculptural qualities are also apparent in the paintings whose structures and surfaces are constructed irregularly, as if a visionary outsider artist had painted on any surface at hand: a milk carton, envelopes, and even canvas.
A sculptural sensibility is extended through roden's numerous references to architecture, the ultimate sculpture and the ultimate method for defining our space. The image closest to the surface in sanctuary (rorschach) is a floor plan, actually a mental map, combining all the homes in which roden has lived. It is painted atop spills and layers of polyurethane pools, jewel-like, with light reflecting through the sediments, and like candy, producing a craving to lick the shiny surfaces and swallow this genuine and honest journey. Bulges underneath the canvas transform the canvas into a hilly, topographic, psychological landscape upon which roden takes a religious journey, arriving by no set path, to this home.
roden paints, builds, films (the exhibit includes a series of short films based on a high school science experiment book), and makes music (the catalogue includes a CD of recent sonic ambiance). Ultimately roden is not saying anything directly but creating an atmosphere of ambiguity, the best possible function that art can do. roden's work reminds us that everything almost always represents something else and that the real does indeed never cease to recede.
Los Angeles, California