More is less and less is more for Steve Roden. The thick paintings in “Lines and Spaces” at Susanne Vielmetter Projects seem succinct despite their wrought under-painting, the layers melting together to become a single, indulgent experience.
The main gallery is filled with mellow, full-bodied oil and acrylic paintings, all of which have idiosyncratic, music-inspired titles. “when sun is like rain. when rain is like sun,” hung at the back of the space, looks like what might happen if Karl Benjamin’s carefully controlled hard-edge paintings married Julie Mehretu’s frenetic environments. Except that Roden’s work has more life than both Benjamin’s and Mehretu’s put together.
In “when sun is like rain”, wide vertical stripes slide open to reveal a quieter crevasse filled with cooler, smaller stripes that join together to form miniature asteroids. Roden’s paintings often seem to imagine a fictional cosmos and the bodies that occupy it. In “the same sun spinning and fading . . .”, a globularly elegant body of color moves off into a dreary expanse of brown like an animated alien caterpillar encountering earth for the first time.
The problem with Roden’s show is that its three different addendums seem severed from each other. The paintings hung in the main gallery are an entity onto themselves, demanding attention and transporting viewers into an odd sensorial world in which stripes and colors define sound, space, and taste. But the drawings in the installation gallery have much more to say about language and narrative than otherworldy sensuality.
“Quartet 1” and “Quartet 3”, both done in ink, pencil, and collage, inescapably reference how phrases or words come together.
In the second smaller side gallery, a circular video monitor on a floor-level stand plays a whimsical short in which lines move in and out across a cavity of color. A dense curtain of hanging wooden blocks fills a third side room, a three dimensional rendition of the worlds Roden creates wit paint. If all these strains had been able to interact with the paintings on an equal footing, without seeming like offshoots, the dynamism of Roden’s more-less-more sensibility might have been even greater. But this element disjointedness doesn’t undermine the net effect of Roden’s painterly explorations.
Roden systematically responded to a musical score when making work for “Lines and Space.” The paintings are decidedly visual experiences, but they do mimic music in one unforgettable way: they have the sensorial power to suck away inhibition and make you want to move.
*(Images top to bottom:Steve Roden, "when sun is like rain. when rain is like sun.", 2008, Oil and acrylic on linen, 72" x 72", Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo Credit: Robert Wedemeyer; Steve Roden, "quartet 3", 2008, Ink, pencil, collage on paper, 27 ½" x 22 ½" framed size, Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo Credit: Robert Wedemeyer; Steve Roden, "if dunes dream and reds sleep in pairs...", 2008, Oil and acrylic on linen, 48" x 35", Courtesy of Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Photo Credit: Robert Wedemeyer)