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John R.G. Roth: Mobile Applications


The world is in constant motion, both literally and figuratively, and it is often difficult to locate our place in all that mobility.  John Roth takes the problem of being on the move and makes humorous and striking art objects with it.  This exhibition centers on a group of sculptures that Roth calls Conveyances: Emotive Conveyance, Stealth Conveyance, Corpulent Conveyance. These sculptures are paradoxical in that they are organic and biomorphic shapes but are made of material that we associate with hard-edged geometry. Roth painstakingly builds forms of Styrofoam or other materials and then covers the forms with gleaming discs of steel. The resulting skin has the reminiscence of fish scales, and like fish scales the discs allow the skin to bend and follow the curvilinear shapes of the sculptures. The sculpture Cretaceous Mode has more than 10,000 scales.

The sculptures speak of the world and the problems of being human but do so in a light and often humorous way. And in nearly every instance, these sculptures rest on wheels of some type – they are mobile.  Writing in the Washington Post, Mark Jenkins said, “There’s a bit of the steampunk sensibility to this work, which encompasses industrial smokestacks and antique diving gear as well as fish and dinosaurs.”  This sensibility reflects Roth’s former employment as a machinist and technician who built things in order to test their endurance. “I made things to be blown up,” as he said.

John Roth is a professor of art at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. His work has been seen in exhibitions around the country including Slowinsky Gallery and Alan Stone Gallery in New York, Contemporary Art Workshop in Chicago, and the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia.  He is currently represented by the Mayer Fine Art Gallery.

Artist Statement Below

After the invasion of Iraq, and my recent move to Norfolk, Virginia — a major military hub — my sculpture increasingly has been informed by thoughts about resources, commodities and consumption and their relationship to politics, world order and the natural environment. Several of these pieces have taken the form of “3-D political cartoons,” satirical one-liners intended to convey a pointed message.  My work, on the whole, is far less prosaic and calls for the viewer’s co-authorship. The genesis of recent work is not so much a departure from earlier investigations as an outgrowth.

While living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as an undergrad, I observed the vestiges of the mining industry. The juxtaposition of extractive contrivances with their bucolic, boreal environments fed my interest in 19th century industrial architecture particularly as captured in the photographic typologies of Bernd and Hilla Becher.

My sculpture/furniture hybrids evolved into a series I call “Speculative Naval Architecture.” Absurd ship models sometimes reflect my visceral response to the anthropomorphic aspects of machinery, vehicles, and buildings and sometimes serve as metaphors for my reflections upon conveyance and modes of communication. Consideration of that nexus between instinct and intellect, and autobiographical events such as the death of my father and the birth of my daughter, inspired individual pieces. Current work explores the folly of material acquisition and accumulation, particularly brought home to me during my move. However, it was never my intention to create works that read as personal narrative. Insofar as they are reflective of a world-view, that view also is subjected to the prism of dream and fantasy.

My use of the kind of decorative and functional details that are found on Industrial Age factories and mines, public utility buildings, machines and, particularly, marine vessels has the effect of making the fanciful somehow familiar, calling into question considerations of past and future when contemplating the present.

 The presentation of my sculpture involves ongoing internal deliberation. I frequently encase my work in traditionally crafted furniture forms or dioramic display cabinets that have the power to add or detract from its thesis. I am interested in expanding the range of materials and processes I use in fabrication, in part to investigate ways of freeing my sculptural forms from enclosure and its implications, and in part to explore options in scale and locale.

Earlier Event: January 4
Ruth Bolduan and Brooke Marcy