Artist Statement

Sam Roloff
Artist Statement

I am a painter of time capsules.  Many of the artworks in my “Backstory Underpainting” series have ten or more layers underneath the surface, which are meticulously documented in books, electronic frames, or screensavers. Like time itself, my work has a movement that leaves a trail of evidence beneath layers upon layers of oils, wax, and glistening resins. This series expresses the reality that each of us as individuals—and as citizens of communities, cultures, and nations—has a unique backstory that informs our present, even if only traces remain of what came before.

When collectors purchase one of my paintings, they are actually purchasing a multi-layered collection of all the paintings and scenes within their many layers of imagery, symbolism, ideas, and emotion.  The crux of this approach harkens to the tradition of what the Italians call “pentimenti”:  the ghosts of images hidden beneath a painting’s surface.  Today, with the aid of radiographic imaging, we can peer through the histories of masterpieces by Renaissance masters such as Leonardo and Michelangelo and see the “rough drafts” that went into the making of the final images.  I believe it is important for viewers and collectors of my paintings to possess evidence of the stages or scenes the paintings passed through on their journeys into their present forms.  Using high-resolution images and video editing programs, I document the geological/archaeological strata that build up as the pieces evolve in my studio.

This way of looking at art comes naturally to me, as one who earned a degree in printmaking at San Francisco Art Institute.  In printmaking, there is a constant duet between additive and subtractive processes, a dialogue that mirrors the interplay between human beings’ actions in the present and our past experiences, which cannot literally be seen but which nevertheless affect what we do and who we are.

Running parallel to the “Backstory Underpainting” works are other series such as my collages and reimaginings of works by other painters.  These works deal with appropriation and credit, issues that gained notoriety in the work of contemporary artists such as Richard Prince and Sherrie Levine.  I also have an ongoing portrait series, which I began in 1994, when I lived in Prague, Czech Republic.  For one of my other series I created a new pigment from soil in the Dundee Hills wine-making region of Oregon.  By literally integrating the grape-producing terroir with the aesthetic process, I am telling the backstory that precedes the enjoyment of a fine wine.

Across the range of my work I have been influenced by Graffiti Art and by historical artists as varied as Bosch, Ernst, Picasso, and Warhol.  I often reference cultural phenomena and current events in my pieces and do not shy away from controversial socioeconomic and political topics.  These have included the global economy, the symbolism of the American Flag, the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, and the trial of Amanda Knox, one of three people convicted in the 2007 murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy.  Some of my works include an interactive element, with gallery-goers invited to add text to pieces, thereby adding to the paintings’ rich histories.

My paintings are metaphors for life itself:  a process of constant change and growth in which we are tethered to the past, eroded by the moment, and infused with the now.