critics picks los angeles

by Joanna Fiduccia artforum, 2011

Don’t be deceived by the provinciality implied in “stone’s throw,” the title of Steve Roden’s latest exhibition—the imaginative routes in his work are as elaborate as his paintings. Bundles of boldly dappled lines congregate in murky, tectonic grounds, or hover atop motifs that stream over the canvas like so much exuberant bunting. Roden has had years of practice cultivating the impression of spontaneity in his works, but in fact his output derives from complex transductions of texts or musical scores into inscrutable visual code, with pieces here spanning collage, drawing, painting, sculpture, and a two-channel film installation.

Roden once feared that he would become known as the “guy who makes small paintings.” His new large-scale works actively resist that reputation, but they don’t do away with intimacy altogether: The titular stones belonged to his grandmother, a sculptor herself, who had left them unfinished during her lifetime. Roden’s paintings are portraits of these inherited castoffs, depictions he subsequently used to propose the forms of his sculptures. Also found in his grandmother’s studio was the textual basis of Roden’s coded motif: a note tenderly recording one of Henry Moore’s aphorisms, which reads “Art shd be judg by its vitality rathr than beauty.” That may well be—and it’s a pleasure to see Moore’s claim borne out in Roden’s gawky, Day-Glo plaster sculptures—but his vivid silent film Striations (Stones and Clouds), 2010–11, is hardly short on persuasive beauty. In it, we see Roden manipulating his grandmother’s stones, coupling them with musical instruments to recall composer Christian Wolff’s 1996 score Stones, or framing them with cutouts of the landscape surrounding Moore’s works in various sculpture parks. Recuperation, repurposing, valorization—Roden’s work is a sentimental project carved from a material process, and a reminder that one is only spitting distance from the other.