Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, until Fri 22 Dec
The most powerful work in this show is a piece entitled ‘Edinburgh Slate Assembly’, which consists of seven 50cm x 30cm slates, each painted in a different shade of dense tempera - there are two blues, two purples, a yellow, a pink and a black. The slates have pre-made nail holes which have been used to hang each of the tiles in an exact spatial relationship with its neighbour. The work is striking in its simplicity, bold in its execution and impact. The price tag is also striking: £8500 plus VAT.
Is it worth it, you may ask? Is such an unguarded reaction ‘philistine’? Or is it valid and, if so, how does it affect our aesthetic judgement . . . ? It’s not an easy question to answer but asking it is useful not least because it illustrates one of the perennial issues surrounding discussion of almost any work of art: it’s ‘true’ value. Here, of course, it reflects Roeth’s high standing in his native US and his long and distinguished career.
Moving around this small show (there are only nine works), trying to forget the price tags and focus on an ‘objective’ reading of the work is not easy. However, the work is quiet, contemplative and simple but not simplistic. Roeth is an artist captivated by colour - ‘pure’ colour, that is - and how using it in various combinations of delineated geometric form can affect the senses. Often words like ‘ambience’ and ‘mood’ come to mind when looking at the work. There are others, too, such as ‘resonance’ and ‘depth’. The works speak to the mind as much as the eye and they induce, if one lets them, a kind of hypnotic joy which is increased all the more through time.
Time spent looking at abstract blocks of colour in our time-poor culture may be defined by some as time ‘wasted’. But, however cynical one may feel about the price tags, it is nevertheless easy to be seduced by the density and depth of intent in these works.