John R. G. Roth: Transmissive Morphology
John Roth’s connection to NMU began in the 1980s, when he was a student taking classes in painting and industrial arts.
John’s paintings, even then, were distinctive, fueled by a unique vision; mostly removed from the typical art school progression. The works emerged from both a strong sense of place and a wider cultural understanding. Equal parts visual culture and personal experience, they carried reflections of American societal wellsprings of the 1950s and 60s, as reflected in literature and broad national tides, Thoreau and the Beats dreamed up in a cartographic industrial/Cold War vision quest. The aesthetics of maps specified the importance of place, with a meditative geometric rhythm setting the beat of a precise and personal voice.
Roth’s broad social awareness was already in place, distilled through specific personal experience in the middle of the milieu. One could recall Kubrick and the Great American Dream of the Streamline era, while in a canoe on a small lake in northern Michigan. These early, starkly diagrammatic pictures were often enclosed with elaborate, eccentric frames that extended the dialogue of American vernacular media languages.
Thus began the voice manifest in these current artifacts from a landscape of psychological inheritances. Nautical themes and mechanical repetitions of oddly mobile fish foreshadowed the obsessively repetitive scales of the “Conveyances”, owning already the same anthropomorphic language and high-craft cultural codes. In that way, Roth made a beeline from 1950s America into the 21st century, showing us dreams and fears and constructed forces that infect our navigation along the way.
Viewing his sculptures, one could be entering a museum of transportation history from a lost parallel culture: a culture of conscience. We can find humor, atomic codependence, and autobiographical awareness of responsibility; a connection to childhood, each other, and the life of the planet in these quirky and compelling structures. “Personal Watercraft” displays ridiculous consumption and a Hopper-like sense of isolation and space. The seductive skins of the Conveyances are at once aggressive armor and meditative cadences, transportation come to life. In “Faceted Conveyance” we see the transportation dream that fueled our freedom doomed to endlessly circle it’s own negative space, if it can move at all. In a world where we now decide if we want our cars to drive themselves, Roth shows us how the machinery we manufactured was already taking the wheel. Enjoy the ride.
– Exhibition curator Michael Letts, associate professor, NMU School of Art and Design.
John Roth received his undergraduate degree from Northern Michigan University and an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently an associate professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.