John Roth: Conveyance & Movement

by Shannon Bowman

Roth’s work is a mix of self-proclaimed “3-D political cartoons” that focus on heavy topics regarding American consumerism and the environment, in a lighthearted manner. The artist credits memories from his childhood, and his past and present geographical locations as his work’s major influences.


From his childhood, it’s the stories of science fiction pioneer Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Seaand A Journey to the Center of the Earth) and shtick of “The Three Stooges” that leave their mark on his art. Also evident throughout the pieces is Roth’s time spent living amongst the mining ruins of Northern Michigan as an undergrad and his recent move to the military hub of Norfolk, Virginia (several pieces were undoubtedly influenced by naval contrivances, with one installation that sits on a mountain of coal.)


Calling on the viewer’s interpretation, it’s Roth’s intention to leave you somewhat puzzled (and puzzled you may be), but it’s hard not to be in awe of his laboriously crafted sculptures.


Twelve in all, these installations span the entire front gallery as a solo-exhibit, which is unusual for the Arts Center (as exhibits are usually paired), but it was an effective alternative, for the sculptures are considerable in size and capaciously fill the room.


His first piece, entitled Divine Imperial Commuter, is a 60-wheeled tank of a train-like transporter that looks modern but outdated at the same time. Enclosed in a dioramic display cabinet (also handcrafted by the artist), the piece is complete with greenish-grey smoke billowing from its stack. One of four other sculptures encased in the cabinetry is part of Roth’s “ongoing internal deliberation” of his work, and as he attests, they have the power to “add or detract” from the sculpture’s thesis.


Six of the twelve sculptures are plated in metallic discs. On one sculpture in particular,Cretaceous Mode, has about 10,000 of these individual discs making up the scaly-armor of an amphibious/reptilian/fish-like creature meets space submarine.


By the fourth plated creature, the temptation to graze just a finger-tip along the scaly sculpture was almost enough to ignore the DO NOT TOUCH sign accompanying each piece. Seemingly sensing this temptation, Roth includes a sample of scales to touch. They were much more durable than I expected. Prior to touching them, I thought they’d be smoother, thinner and would add a certain delicateness to their structure, but these creatures were indeed tanks in every way.


Three of the six plated sculptures included the word conveyance in their title–Cleft Conveyance, Torqued Conveyance and Emoting Conveyance–Roth, it appears, is using the word’s double meaning here (the act of conveying as well as a means of transporting), the latter of which points to the exhibit’s overall title, Figment Transport, as well.


Several pieces had an aquatic theme (sans scales), like Home Appliance, which on its exterior is an old diving helmet on top of an old painted green refrigerator. Inside the helmet on a grassy knoll in the clouds is a house on fire.


Stealth Conveyance, the only non-plated sculpture with conveyance in the title, is a marshmallowy-cloud futuristic submarine. On its stern is a door and two portholes of plain steel, juxtaposing the baby-blue clouds covering the structure. Raised on a wooden water bed, if it did in fact travel on the water, one would have to guess, it would be stealthy.


Sculpture Images from John Roth's Collection (Click on image to enlarge)

Ambivalent Conveyance
The Good Father
Cleft Conveyance
Cleft Conveyance
Cretaceous Mode
Crux Navis
Emoting Conveyance
Faceted Conveyance
Torqued Conveyance
Trebled Conveyance