Down the sidewalk, up the stairs, down the hall and into the studio, an artist practices his craft in a downtown studio using materials to experiment with concepts and materials that, at least in these parts, are out of the norm. Inside the studio, two tall columns of clear, plastic bags seal and protect long lengths of yarn that loop and twist into mangled nests. Each bag contains a dismantled sculpture created by an artist who describes his work as “delicate and temporal.” Gregor Roth uses black and grey yarn to create the illusion of volume. In January 2013 he created a site-specific installation within the Allen County Public Library’s Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery. Parallel lines stretched from one side of the room to the other, connecting in such a way that allowed Roth to develop “structural drawings in space” which he conceptualized and built during business hours, all the while watching people walk past and even through his work.
“I like to play off the space that I’m inside of,” says Roth, whose goal is to change a visual form into something in which viewers can participate. Walk into a gallery housing his work and you literally walk into Roth’s sculpture. With yarn lines that stretch from wall to wall, his sculptures envelop you physically, challenging you to simply reconsider a space that has possibly become ordinary.
The decision to use only black and grey yarn keeps the viewer’s focus on the forms. The dark lines allude to graphite, a material Roth is extremely familiar with. Roth’s sculpture evolves from his strong foundation in drawing. Working with a two-dimensional medium, he seeks to create drawings that appear sculptural.
“I’ve always wanted people to look at what I do and feel as though they could be inside it,” he explains.
Roth started drawing as a child.
“My dad showed me how to draw the cube when I was five, and I was hooked,” he says. In college he was inspired by Michelangelo’s figurative work because of its sculptural quality.
“The drawings look as though you could pick them up and turn them around,” he says.
Roth’s command of pencil allows him to execute any thoughts he may conceive. As cool jazz notes permeate his studio, he steps across the room to retrieve one of the many sketchbooks he has collected, each one filled with drawings that record ideas and concepts left to simmer and fully develop when the time is right. He opens the book to share a page he sketched during a visit to the Guggenheim in New York City. While contemplating the display there, Roth found himself more interested in the shadows cast in the sunlit atrium of the museum than the featured exhibit, and he sat down to draw and capture the unusual shapes in his book.
Roth let the idea rest for two years. In June 2013, he hung large sheets of paper down his studio walls and enlarged the shadow-shapes, drawing them on a grand scale. Intrigue with volume and space pulled his creative process farther along and led him to transfer the now giant shadows onto sculptural material. Working through a “progression and investigation of size and volume,” Roth carefully cut the shapes from sheets of construction Styrofoam, making sure to work carefully around the delicate sections that could easily snap themselves off. After painting the pieces in gray and black, Roth realized his sculptures projected a cold vibe he describes as “lonely, old and forgotten.” With a bit of added texture and a switch to yellow paint, he changed the emotion of his work to “warm and inviting, all with the use of color.”
While 2D drawings led Roth to create sculptures with yarn and the flat shadows captured from the Guggenheim led him to construct larger-than-life 3D forms, his process often works in reverse.
Strips of paper towels pulled from the roll hang on the wall opposing his sculptures where Roth is recording his interpretations of form on a flat surface. Paper toweling allows Roth to make his drawings as long as he wants, and the texture lends itself perfectly to grabbing pigmented particles of chalk, colored pencil and ink. The chalk is applied with cotton balls.
“I’m trying to stay fluid and loose with these, adding chalk first, then pencil and finally pen. I like to explore new materials,” he explains.
Conversation led Roth to pull out another sketchbook, this one handmade with tiny stitches binding the edges of the cover that held together a collection of accordion-folded pages. Unfolding these pages led Roth to open yet another book, this one made in Tibet and filled with handcrafted paper. Roth’s work is driven by the documentation and personal reflection he records in his books.
“I like documentation. Document everything,” he says. “You never know when you need to go back and draw upon something.
“Documentation also brings clarification and promotes growth overall. I think it is important to write in relation to the work you are creating. I ask myself, what am I doing with these?”
Roth’s thought process is what sets him apart from many artists. He long ago mastered the ability to draw likenesses with a skill level to impress, but he is more interested in the thought that supports an art piece. Inspired by artists Hans Hoffman and Richard Serra, he became more interested in abstract work and the thinking behind the art. While abstract contemporary work may appear simple and “easy” to an untrained viewer, the thought process leading to new concepts can be grueling and head-spinning.
For example, Roth explains the six principals influencing perception in relation to his Drawing in Space series and defines perception as “a response to factors of concept, space, sculpture and engagement,” before going on to say, “These compose the gestalt of the situation and provide opportunity for individual experience defining a sense of belonging.”
Because contemporary work is often misunderstood, it is also under-appreciated.
“Even more than that,” says Roth, “thinking-art is de-emphasized and devalued.” He stands with conviction alongside many contemporary artists who believe that, just as science is a way of interpreting the world, so is art.
“What separates science from art is that science is wrapped in absolutes of data and equations. An artist looks at other explanations and other ways to see things in a new way by including how we interact with the world.”
Roth is using art as the vehicle to navigate and document his human experience. He often feels isolated as an artist and has yet to find another in this area developing similar concepts. He craves another brain to bounce ideas to.
“For a long time I didn’t understand what I was doing,” he says. “It has been scary, stressful, exciting and liberating.”
As he cycles through work, flowing from 3D to 2D and back again, Roth continues to develop a deeper understanding of our world and takes note of details that most people would never consider examining. He brings forth common bits of life such as shadows or empty space and transforms those things into tangible, visual forms, bringing them to our attention in a way that promotes thought and contemplation. His work invites viewers to participate, explore and contemplate our world.
Roth is an artist who thinks deeply and hopes that he can stimulate the same sort of thought in those who experience his work.