Thomas Roth: “White” at Tansey Contemporary

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We live in a material world, and mixed-media artist Thomas Roth is a material guy. He’s interested in what happens at the edges of empiricism, when things fall apart, and centers cease to hold. His work comments on the accumulation of objects and items in our post-industrial lifestyles, and the scale of the systems of mass production consumed with producing consumables. Where Warhol gave people what they wanted in the form of Marilyn and Elvis, Roth provides a perfectly warped picnic of plastic products. Some of the best of the nearly all white works in his current show are wrought from (spastic) plastic forks, and sliced Styrofoam cups. Even during these deeply jaded days there is something slightly audacious about making your art out of disposables. Not that everybody from Duchamp to Tuttle hasn’t already, but as Roth’s exhibition goes to show, the fine line between what lands in the landfill, and what wears well on the wall is exactly the point.

Roth wins the prized golden hot-glue-gun for his gestural abstractions accomplished in this largely under-explored medium, and in the even stickier substance of silicon caulk. In a signature Rothian turn, the stuff that other artists use to glue their work together, the unacknowledged, invisible in-betweens, become both subject and object of his practice. The large chevron diptych (titled G2 and G3) is an especially excellent example. Moon craters, rings of Saturn, planetary topographies, and other interstellar associations orbit the small square piece G6, composed primarily of the aforementioned sliced Styrofoam beverage containers. Transformation of materials, and ultimately, the transformation of our material culture, are the key concepts for grasping the significance of Roth’s process. Like Lee Bontecou, Roth produces work in an idiosyncratic visual language that is entirely his own. The most radical alteration, the show’s masterpiece, takes the form of a large vertical relief, that protrudes nearly a foot off the wall, composed primarily of melted plastic picnic forks with an overlay of plastic sheeting, also subjected to heating, melting and tearing. Reminiscent of a giant papery insect nest, or some natural mineral accretion on a cave wall, the work asks viewers to look through the holes and tears in the overlay to the twisted, nearly unrecognizable forks within. Evoking a strong sense of interiority, it affords wonderful moments of curious exploration and intimate discovery, which is really what art is all about, after all.

Image:
G6
2016
Thomas Roth
Mixed media
18″ x 18″
Photo: courtesy Tansey Contemporary