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winston roeth at stark gallery

by Michael Brennan  


Installation view at Stark

   Winston Roeth is probably the best color painter in New York City. His last show at Stark Gallery, his sixth in about ten years, included just four paintings. I attribute the strength of his work to two technical factors. Roeth paints in a formal framed-plane style, which has been popular with many painters, from Malevich to Ralph Humphrey and Peter Joseph. Roeth calls his framing bands "surrounds."

His paintings are cleanly constructed, quickly executed with close attention to surface detail, and seldom appear labored or obsessively reworked. Because Roeth works in tempera, his paintings acquire a supermatte finish that liberates the color immensely and allows for an unimpeded color experience. There are no brushstrokes to speak of in the central color plane, although the speedy tracery of the brush can be seen in the surrounding band. Roeth wisely avoids using any sort of varnished medium, which more often than not interrupts color experience because the viewer ends up looking into a mirrored colored surface, looking upon his or her own reflection rather than painted color. Roeth's paintings work because they are exact and undistracted.

The first painting in the show, Elevator, is a ten-foot vertical that is colored like moonstone, or what is commercially labeled "Rembrandt Yellow." It is painted on a thin stiff panel, and there is a slight inky bleed along the inside edge of the framing indigo band. This painting was commanding in size and scale, but forgiving in the softness of its colored plane. My favorite painting was Eldorado, a more magenta than Pepto-Bismal pink plane that was contained in a double graphite-violet band, which like Elevator bled milky along the inside edge. Although Eldorado was painted on cotton, there was no visible weave, and this painting provided the quintessential Roeth color ride.

When you look at a Roeth painting in person, your eyes cannot see the painting's physical surface, and while your mind tries to locate that fixed plane that you know is just a few inches off the wall, the color rushes at you back and forth from just an inch away from your face to a deep field several feet within the frame. I cannot think of another experience to equate it with, aside from pure wave function which I've never really seen, perhaps until now. Architect is a metallic grid painting that flickers at the joints, and appears unstable, like a Mondrian, despite its explicit rectilinear structure. Pretender is classic Roeth, where a darkly violet field is surrounded by a graphite band that I suspect is painted over a contrasting orange. The color experience here is as profound as it is with Eldorado, only more familiar. Anyone interested in seeing the emotive potential of color should enter the velvet fog of Winston Roeth's painting.

Winston Roeth, "New Paintings," Oct. 17-Nov. 22, 1998, at Stark Gallery, 113 Crosby Street, New York, N.Y. 10012

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