Mark Roeder

Sister, Los Angeles, USA



Mark Roeder, Noncommital, Antipainting (Multidimensional - Backbone), 2009, acrylic, ink and graphite on canvas, 132x178 cm

Mark Roeder, Noncommital, Antipainting (Multidimensional - Backbone), 2009, acrylic, ink and graphite on canvas, 132x178 cm

For Mark Roeder, pathos and bathos collide in the Californian landscape. There’s an earnest sadness and nostalgia in what he calls in one of his black and white, cartoonish paintings his ‘Individual Psychical Space’, but it’s a sadness that moves quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous, bathed in a hellish half-light of self-awareness. The paradisiacal feelings about California felt by this contemplative artist are undercut by his self-conscious awareness of how absurd such feelings are. Each of the paintings and collages included in this show (titled ‘California Landscape Paintings’) recall places of personal significance for Roeder (a surf spot, a hike), along with a subtle dig at the humourless history of landscape painting in the state. Each image is painted twice (though one is torn and half is collaged); each one emanates, for all their earnestness, a tongue-in-cheek conceptualism. They’re built to fail.

Failure has been part of the California psyche from the beginning. The Spaniards who named the state apparently picked up their knowledge from a 16th-century book describing a fantasy island ruled by a naked, black tribe of Amazonians who beat off invaders with gold weapons. In Roeder’s 2009 painting Noncommittal, Antipainting (Multidimensional – Secret Spot #2, with Attached California Amazons), the landscape is overlaid with a collage of half-naked African dancers; the artist has scrawled along the bottom of the image the words ‘California Island Dream’, as if he’s reminding us never to forget the mythic Amazonians the Spaniards failed to find.

Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, the curator of the show, invokes Samuel Beckett in her refreshingly lyrical press release, quoting the famous lines from his late, short text from 1983, Worstward Ho: ‘Ever tried. Ever Failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better’. Beckett’s tersely worded prose-piece bemoans the failure of speech to represent thought; one must resign oneself to speaking badly. But unlike the landscape painters of the early California wilderness (a set of earnest young artists with Impressionism rattling through their heads) that preceded him, Roeder is fully conscious of the collapse in meaning even as he’s making it.

One mode of art (and fantasy) is to distract us from reality, as Roeder writes in another text piece included in the show: ‘The content of message in this “work” is misleading and intends to redirect your attention from your “real life” problems’. The collage is backed not by California but Tahiti, Gauguin’s inspired paradise of noble savages painted with thick black lines. If the self-stated point of the work is to distract us, it cannot really do so by telling us. It’s just another tragicomic canceling out, typical of Beckett but met in a dreamy California landscape: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’

Issue 125

First published in Issue 125

September 2009

Most Read

60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...

The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
A tender new film about the fashion icon and troubled genius whose creative vision ‘started the 21st century’
A survey of 1,016 visual artists across the world finds that the badges of professional success don’t necessarily...
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018