Spotlight, Winston Roeth
Winston Roeth laughs when he says he was five years old when his work was first exhibited. As he describes the situation, however, a convincing picture emerges of an artist in the making. Winston was in kindergarten and had been handed a white sheet of paper with the outline of a circle in black ink. He recalls grabbing the most intense red crayon in the pack and working with great concentration on his assignment, coloring the circle. It's easy to imagine what happened next: the teacher chose Winston's piece to hold up in front of the class as an example of good coloring.
Looking at Roeth's paintings today, it's no surprise that he was good with colors even at the age of five; but what is most striking about his story is his still-clear recollection (after so many years) of how it felt finding the right color, focusing all his attention on that color, and producing a work of art that satisfied him. When Roeth describes his present-day process of painting, the level of skill and sophistication is obviously quite different, but the fascination with color and what can be done with it is still the same. And even a glance at one of his paintings shows the viewer that Roeth has never lost that childhood ability to look at the world of color with freshness, intensity and wonder.
Winston's artistic sensibilities received another major impetus during his senior year in high school. He already knew at that point that he would be an artist and was ready to start art school the following fall, when the Ad Reinhardt controversy broke out in New York and then surfaced in Winston's home town of Chicago. Many critics and a large proportion of the public regarded the acquisition of Reinhardt's black squares by major museums in both cities as an outrage. Roeth was intrigued and made a point of seeing the Chicago painting. His first reaction was mixed: he wasn't sure what was going on, but he knew that something was, that the paintings were far from the cynical fakery they'd been called. Ironically, Reinhardt later became one of Roeth's important influences.
Studies at the University of Illinois, University of New Mexico and Royal College of Art in London followed. Passing through New York on his return from England in 1969, he was caught by the city's vibrant art scene and never left. He remembers the era as fostering a hive of artistic activity, with the city's many artists exchanging studio visits, taking in the tremendous variety of exhibitions and airing their views about their own work and that of everyone else. "The New York art community in that time had a contained quality," he says. "It was a place where you could get a feel for what the art world was."
Over the years he has exhibited widely in New York. At the beginning of the 90s, Giuseppe Panza di Biumo began to collect Roeth's work and provided steady support over several years, enabling him to create a large body of work and to develop his painting in a concentrated way.
At the Palazzo Ducale di Sassuolo, lush rectangular color paintings by Winston Roeth hang beautifully in a room devoted to his work, a room with gilded walls, inlaid floors and decor from 1638. Around the time of the inclusion of Roeth's paintings in this preeminent collection, galleries in Sweden, Germany and Switzerland were becoming interested in his work and began to offer him exhibitions. By the late 90s his paintings were also being shown in New Zealand.
The international art community has responded enthusiastically to Roeth's ability to present color in all its intensity and power. Critic Michael Brennan has referred to him as "probably the best color painter in New York." But if one conjures up a portrait of this master of color painting at work in his studio, the ghost image of a five-year-old appears, his vision and imagination captured completely by the way in which a single red crayon goes down on a white page.