review: steve roden’s ‘ragpicker’ enchants with underdog charm

by david pagel los angeles times, 2013

“Ragpicker,” Steve Roden’s oddly enchanting exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, rambles through three galleries. Any one would be enough for a satisfying solo show, but the L.A. artist never settles for good enough.

The sense that there’s always more to do — that everything one does is insufficient or worse — endows his cobbled-together compositions and grungy, to-hell-and-back materials with underdog charm.

You find yourself rooting for Roden’s curiously endearing paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures and mixed-media installations, thankful that they exist yet worried that the world they stand for is on the verge of disappearing.

Roden is a master of nooks and crannies. He specializes in finding quiet little openings between things and making each feel as if it’s a momentary respite from the meanness that defines so much of modern life.

Not an escape from the rising tide of trepidation, nor a false promise of empty transcendence, his abstract images and objects are suffused with a kind of mongrel melancholy whose resonance grows as you meander from one body of work to another.

In all there are eight: Small, medium and large paintings, each a world unto itself and each size seeming to inhabit a different galaxy. Tender little drawings, scruffy body-size prints, silent white sculptures and an installation that includes four turntables that play strange melodies show the range of Roden’s interests and the depth of his sensitivity to those overlooked things that have fallen through the cracks.

Seven intimate collages, hung salon-style in the last gallery, show Roden at his best: treating his own works as a scrap heap to dig through, driven by both desperation and hope. Cutting and pasting, as if his life depended on it, Roden patches together pieces that find glints of optimism amid overwhelming darkness.