Handmade: The Art of Susan Roth, on display at the Everson Museum of Art, showcases works by an artist who has been on the move for four decades. Roth has created pieces large and small, experimented with materials, straddled the line between painting and sculpture, and played with color, form and, most of all, surface.
Back in 1981, Roth rejected the notion of simply painting on canvas. Instead, she folded and placed canvas on canvas, providing more surface to paint on and creating a three-dimensional effect. What emerges is a thicker surface with bumps, furrows, ridges and clumps of paint. In addition, over the years Roth has utilized various materials, including gels, Plexiglass, paint resembling concrete, and the polycarbonate substance Lexan.
In doing that, she’s built a foundation for ongoing forays into color. Handmade, which spreads out over three galleries, presents multiple approaches to color. In a large work like “Speak Memory,” Roth shifts into overdrive with an intense array of colors. In “Flamenco,” bands of red, blue, purple and gold play off brown and black.
Those two pieces certainly aren’t prototypes. In “Don Quixote,” gold dominates, and red is but an interlude. “Strawberry Fields Forever” has a sector suggesting a waterfall contrasting with spots of red and a patch mixing various colors.
Elsewhere, the show documents Roth’s penchant for spinning the wheel, for trying various visual strategies. In “Thai Dancer,” she worked with acrylic, black gesso and Belgian linen, with the linen positioned like a shroud over the canvas. “Derula” combines several layers including Plexiglass and canvas on canvas.
Beyond that, there are artworks with no canvas whatsoever. “Cornucopia,” a piece from 2003, mixes paint, glass shards, a fragmented saucer, Plexiglass, and globs of concrete.
The exhibit includes samples of Roth’s more recent pieces using powder-coated steel. A small piece looks like a shield and poses a paradox: How can an artwork made of steel communicate a sense of vulnerability? Paint contrasts with metal, challenging the viewer to reconsider the steel.
“Pandora’s Box” is long and tall, with acrylic on Lexan, bolted-on sections of steel, and bright hues of color. It’s from 2015, one of the newest works from a portfolio extending more than 40 years.
In displaying Roth’s pieces, the exhibition doesn’t suggest her career can be divided up into phases. Indeed, it specifically rejects that approach. Each gallery presents works from various decades, discussing both change and constants.
Ultimately, the exhibit centers on Roth’s willingness to move beyond where’s she been, her embrace of new approaches and the risks they entail, her decision to keep pushing painting and color in new directions. This isn’t change for the sake of change: It’s a concerted effort to elevate the energy in her artworks. Handmade emphasizes Roth’s ability to create high-quality work and her creative journey. It’s a cohesive, energetic retrospective and well worth a visit to the Everson.
Handmade: The Art of Susan Roth is on display through Aug. 30 at the Everson Museum, 401 Harrison St. The venue is open Wednesdays and Fridays through Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., and Thursdays, noon to 8 p.m. There’s a suggested donation of $5 for admission. For more information, call 474-6064.