art pick

by Peter Frank la weekly, 2004

Does it matter that the conceptual substructure of Steve Roden’s juicy little abstract paintings is a phrase – “the silent world”- codified into myriad shapes and colors and even textures? Aren’t the results gratifying enough to the eye not to require the extra information? Well, it does matter, because if that’s what brought these paintings about, then that’s what counts.

Yes, Roden’s own witty way with shapes and his effulgent painting technique – the pigment slathered on like icing, and bristling with every possible color (so long as it’s bright, or at least clear) – are what made the paintings. But what prompted them is Roden’s complex response to the phrase (actually the title of Jacques Cousteau’s first book) and his process of translating English into painting. The very idea of turning words into images has a daffiness to it, Roden at once deconstructing and pushing at the idea of synesthesia.

In his poem “Les Voyelles,” Arthur Rimbaud proposed that the vowels were like colors, according to a system the poet felt rather than simply made up. Roden – who also shows a painting and a sculpture based on a Sunday-school song score and a suite of drawings derived from the transliterations of bird songs – allows himself the same deep subjectivity as Rimbaud, and commands the same exquisite care in exercising that subjectivity and turning it into more art. For a topper, Roden shows a sound-sculpture installation whose sound source is his own guitar and that of the guitarist from his high school punk band. Rock on!