Steve Roden, a multidisciplinary artist whose abstract work in painting, sculpture, sound, installation and video combined delicate nuance with vivid invention, died Wednesday at home in Pasadena. He was 59 years old. Roden was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2017.
Roden’s last solo exhibition at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles, the gallery where he exhibited regularly for almost 20 years, took place in the summer of 2019. He continued to work privately in his studio during the ensuing pandemic. Previous examples of his distinctive aesthetic have been featured in recent group exhibitions in California and Europe, including “Audiosphere: Sound Experimentation 1980-2020,” a major survey of contemporary sound art at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.
Roden’s work is planned Recording next year“Energy Fields: Vibrations of the Pacific” at Chapman University, part of the Getty Foundation’s upcoming Pacific Standard Time initiative that explores the intersections between art and science. He was the subject of a 2010 midcareer retrospective at the Pasadena Armory Center for the Arts and his work is in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece.
The Vielmetter exhibition compared elaborate paintings with two projected videos and a sound installation, the sound form of which was created by blowing into the dismantled wooden reed boxes of an old pipe organ. In the videos you could see how the artist put parts of the collage into place, although everything is temporary and nothing is permanently fixed. The modest visual narratives titled “detritus” and “orrery” (a mechanical model of the solar system), all written in lower case, have no beginning and no end. However, the changing forms were reflected in paintings composed of crystalline forms composed of colorful, improvised characters, almost in the manner of a song.
Roden once described painting as “the sun” around which other art floats, but these other forms were integral to its creation.
Born on April 27, 1964, Roden expanded his musical interests at Beverly Hills High School, where he and two friends formed a punk rock band they called the Seditionaries. The group shared their name with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s London punk clothing store. Despite the youth of its members, the band played gigs with the Circle Jerks and English group The Damned and performed at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. Roden later created the ethereal soundtrack heard at the beginning of the popular film Modern Art Notes Podcast..
Roden earned a BFA in 1986 from the Otis Art Institute, now the Otis College of Art and Design, when it was located in MacArthur Park near downtown LA and affiliated with New York’s Parsons School of Design. He received a master’s degree from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena in 1989. His teachers at the two schools included artists Emerson Woelffer, Roy Dowell, Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina and Gary Panter, many of whom also adopted multidisciplinary forms and cross-cultural influences in their work. Along with cartoonist Dan Goodsell, Roden later published Krazy Kids’ Food!, a pocket book of vintage advertising graphic designs.
While still in college, Roden met artist and designer Sari Takahashi and the couple married in 1993. Five years later, they purchased an eccentric 1946 home in Pasadena known as “Airform bubble house.” Designed by famed residential architect Wallace Neff, the landmark is shaped like a large concrete igloo. Neff envisioned a quick, inexpensive form of mass-produced enclosure made by inflating a large, industrial-grade balloon, pneumatically spraying it with gunite (the material often used to coat the surface of swimming pools), then deflating the balloon and the Pulling out the balloon is made through the door. The process only took 48 hours and no wood or nails were used.
Several bubble houses have been built across the country, but the Rodens’ house is the only one left. Although curved walls limited functionality, a thousand-square-foot house formed from air was ideal for an artist with Roden’s poetic sensibilities. Pointing to the curved, pockmarked ceiling, he explained it once told a KCRW reporter that the acoustics were surprising.
“It was concrete resting on a balloon supported by air. So in the areas where the surface is a little bit disturbed, these pockets are created,” he said. “So every now and then, depending on where you’re standing, you have a parable where the sound goes right into your ear, but no one else can hear it.”
The Getty Research Institute and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, in collaboration with MOCA, commissioned Roden in 2008 to reinterpret Allan Kaprow’s groundbreaking performance series “18 Happenings in 6 Parts,” first presented half a century earlier at New York’s Reuben Gallery. In a remembrance on the Legacy website, curator Meg Linton quoted Glenn R. Phillips of the GRI, who stated: “At the heart of [Roden’s] Work is an incredible sense of play that can bring joy in moving an idea from head to page, to screen, to sound, to space, and then back to the head again.”
Roden was the epitome of an “artist” who was widely admired by his peers. In the Pasadena Armory Center’s mid-career survey, as well as a related exhibition of new work at the Pomona College Museum of Art (now the Benton Museum), Roden’s art joined a spiritual tradition inspired by 20th-century predecessors as diverse as Arthur Dove , Paul Klee and Alfred Jensen. His paintings and sculptures, which are notoriously difficult to describe, combine logical systems and formal structures with very personal and improvisational rhythms. Art becomes a field of dynamic engagement.
In addition to his wife, the artist is survived by his mother Susan Roden. A memorial event is being planned.