LAMA BLOG

The Painted Word: Q+A with Artist Steve Roden

February 19, 2016

Steve Roden is an artist’s artist. Respected by critics as much as his peers, the Pasadena-based Roden has been a longtime fixture in the electronic music scene and is admired for interpreting non-visual mediums—from music to literature—in abstract, visual forms conceived as paintings and installations. A featured lot in LAMA’s February 21st auction is his painting the silent world (retract and disappear), a signal work made between 2001 and 2002 from a series first shown at the Susan Vielmetter Gallery in Los Angeles. We spoke to Roden about it:

Lot 395, Steve Roden, the silent world (retract & disappear) (2001-2002)
Lot 395, Steve Roden, the silent world (retract & disappear) (2001-2002)
February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Los Angeles Modern Auctions: What got you started on the silent world paintings?
Steve Roden: The body of work began with the discovery of a book written by Jacques Cousteau that I found at a flea market. The title was a reference to the underwater world, of course, but for me the title also felt related to the small paintings I had been making after I got out of grad school in 1989. I had always been interested in using letters or words in my work, but I had found myself repeating the way I was making things, and so rather than worry about the finished objects, I began to try to find different ways to make an object or an image. In the Cousteau book I found an image of orange coral that felt like an abstract painting, and I tried to use it as a motif. But as you can see, on the right side is a large orange stain, which is the residue of that initial failure. As my mom likes to point out: I never erased anything—in my school papers, or any writing, I always crossed things off. So there was always evidence of every activity or action.

LAMA: But then you developed an interpretive methodology?
SR: Yes. Because I also work with sound, I began to explore some of the chance-based processes of John Cage. I found a way to use the alphabet as a measuring stick—such as A = 1, B = 2, C = 3—so that a word could be translated into a form made from linear elements. In the small silent world paintings, the translation was from letters to inches. But in this piece, the largest painting in the body of work, I used a letter-to-foot translation. The black lines form the text via letter lengths. Take the word “The.” T is the nineteenth letter, so it is represented by nineteen one-foot linked linear elements; H is the eighth letter, so it is translated into eight elements; E is the fifth letter, and so on.

LAMA: Very cool. You have a new show currently up at the Vielmetter Gallery. Tell us about that.
SR: I’m still working with different ways of making an object or an image. These new works came out of a period where I stopped painting for a year—not because I was empty, but because I wanted to break the consistency in the work; to force myself to start over. For these paintings I took away all of my tools so that the making was different, which allowed the work to also look different. Beneath the surfaces of these paintings there is a lot of personal history with Rudolph Schindler’s Lechner House [a striking geometric design, built in Studio City in 1948]. I lived in it for a few years as a teenager, and the shape of the fireplace and the ceiling treatment, Schindler’s process and materiality and his willingness to improvise in the moment—I call it “straying”—is a huge aspect of my own practice.

Lot Information:

Lot 395
Steve Roden
the silent world (retract & disappear)
2001-2002
Oil, polyurethane, acrylic, and beeswax on canvas
Signed, titled, and dated verso; retains Suzanne Vielmetter Projects label verso
Canvas: 72″ x 72″

Provenance: Suzanne Vielmetter Projects, Los Angeles, California;
Private Collection, California (acquired directly from the above, March 2004)

Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000

February 21, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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