Gerald Roach  Roach Penticton BC Canada Gerald Roach news Penticton JMW Turner:  the source

                                              Portrait of Gerald Roach in his studio 2002 Penticton

            Early in 2003 Gerald Roach experienced a stroke that left him paralyzed in his left arm and leg. Other than being relegated to a wheelchair he is doing great. His spirits are high!

Recently Gerald and twenty of his friends met at Chef K's on Main restaurant to mark his seventy-first birthday. The noted poet, D.B.J. Snyder entertained the group with a lengthy and humorous ballad of his own creation. It dealt with Gerald's artistic career and was sung by Dave and the group with uninhibited gusto.

Gerald's work is presently being featured at the Tumbleweed Gallery, Penticton BC.

                             What about Roach's Style?

            Letter from Robert Setters to:
            Charles C. Hill, Curator of Canadian Art, National Gallery of Canada, June 15, 2000

"The lengthy discussion I had with Gerald Roach about your questions made for a very interesting evening. His experience as professor of art at Dawson College, Montreal (1974-1980) enabled him to put his vision into words; and although his explanations were explicit I found the concepts exciting and adventurous. His evolution from the Abstract Expressionism of 1960-62 to the neo-romantic style of his late period is a big stretch visually, but Roach assured that 'it is quite an understandable progression.'

"The large body of abstract work that he produced in Nova Scotia starting as early as the mid 1950’s was initially met with shock. His early rejection by a public unfamiliar with abstract art did not deter him and once the new style was accepted it became very popular and sold through art galleries such as: The Dresden, 1667, and Zwicker’s, a very impressive accomplishment for an artist so young. The synthesis of expressive and abstract styles proved the best way for him to interpret the  lush yet rugged landscape of the Nova Scotia he so cherished.

"His increasing popularity led to him becoming the artist representative for Nova Scotia in The World Book Encyclopedia (seen here is the image published therein, November Sunset).

"Over his many years as a professional artist Roach progressed in accordance with his changing environment and personal outlook, and although the financial success of his abstract and expressionistic phase made his evolution more difficult, he felt that he was becoming cornered: “fenced into a current trend” that prevented him from expressing his expanding vision. When I measured his dynamic evolution against the ever so inventive Picasso, he was disturbed by the comparison to one of his least favoured artists. Regardless of this spontaneous revulsion, the radical progress made by both artists may stem from similar artistic motivation - the motivation that requires any great mind to delve deeper in order to quantify their personal illusions.

"Roach’s study in the 1950’s at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design under his mentor Neil Grant, a tough but admirable English expatriate, gave him the classical understanding of art principles and a strong foundation that later enabled him to express his broad spectrum of talents. With this training and his own inventiveness he was able to conquer the diverse styles necessary to interpret his changing environment, concepts and ideals. The rich lush landscape of Nova Scotia and swamps of Louisburg are a dramatically different habitat than Montreal, and shortly after his move to the city he found that in his new context he was unable to continue painting the same way.

"His first ‘old-style’ paintings done in Montreal were successful, but soon he felt such work  irrelevant and no longer “vital." He ended up destroying a number of his early city paintings. All-in-all he believes that the “concept" of his work "has remained constant since art-college and the only change has been with the visual vocabulary necessary to express it.” Roach feels that he was advancing his style in an evolutionary sense rather than rejecting any of his previous work. Nonetheless he assured that: “all of it gives me pleasure.”

"A certain amount of probing with names such as Hans Hofmann and Vasily Kandinsky netted me what may be the original source of Roach’s inspiration. A 1960 show of Spanish abstractionists held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York featuring artists such as Francisco Farreras, Joan Tharrats and Luis Feito hit a meaningful cord with Roach. Along with American artists that he felt an affinity with such as: Arshile Gorky, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning and Clyfford Still; the Italian, Afro Basaldella; and other Canadian artists such as David Milne, and his contemporaries Gordon Smith and Tony Urquhart the stage was set for his foray away from a more formal albeit already modern and inventive art style. Although, he was not impressed by my comparing some of his work with Kandinsky’s, because he felt Kandinsky’s paintings had “insufficient structural underpinnings” it is evident that much of what he and other leading artists were doing in the 50’s and 60’s had a common source, and much to do with Kandinsky. For this same reason he rejected being associated with Jackson Pollock one of the fathers of the movement Roach seemed akin to. Ironically, just before his tragic death, Pollock had been moving back to ‘figurative abstraction’ – a hallmark of some of Roach’s early paintings.

"Works such as, The Cliff, 1961, by Hofmann, Orange and Black Wall, 1959 by Kline and Door to the River, 1960 by de Kooning are all absolutely contemporary with Roach’s high point in abstract expressionism, and are difficult to differentiate as a distinct 'ism', from Roach’s own style. The push-pull effect that Hofmann was celebrated for; whereby a nonobjective work derives its impact from intense colours, tonal contrasts and textured use of paint, was also a major part of Roach’s work at that time. When I suggested this to him there was no argument. Hofmann’s style of using heavy textured paint paralleled Roach’s who was then moving from smooth glossy surfaces to very heavy paint over thin--'scabs' as he refers to them.  This was most evident after 1961; however, by the time he had moved mainly into figurative work in 1968, he reminisced with a sneer: 'there was no place left to put my scabs.' They had outlived their usefulness thus bringing an end to his scabrous period. 

"The thick paint opposing thin paint technique favored by both artists was carried one step further by Roach as he objectified his work in paintings like Harold Town, The Attack (seen here). When he describes his paint as being part of the image and part of the painted surface simultaneously, the reason for the ‘push-pull’ effect becomes very evident. Again, Roach’s development parallels that of others, but his marked progression or at lease different track towards a more figurative approach, while attempting to solve the same problems, made his work unique. Playing with space and texture was as much invention as it was participation within any particular movement.

"Roach insisted that even his most realistic neo-romantic pieces were informed by modern techniques. It may be fairly stated that Surrealism enters much of his work by way of dream-like ‘free associations’. A combination of mystical wooded forests, the impossible movement of water over rocks and sand, or the disparate combination of landscape elements presented from a dizzying bi-elevated perspective stops the viewer outside Roach’s private illusory realm.

"The more complete the puzzle about what informed Roach’s work during his ongoing development and his highly personal but educated philosophy about life and art, the more it becomes apparent that the seemingly incongruent styles are all connected. The way he has been able synthesize these in order to express his own “informed intuition” as he likes to term it, has undoubtedly always been avant-garde. Time will tell if he is in fact a witness of his age.

"In The Attack as with all Roach’s work, the “way of applying paint is part of the subject”, and is more apparent in the ‘scabrous’ works of the 60’s when the paint could be as thick as a half inch in places—“snow plowed into the painting” to create effect. According to Roach the application of paint is an integral part of all his work right up to; and including, the vaporous neo-romanticism of the 80’s and early 90’s. His thick clotted technique of tormenting the partially dried paint surface was also out of character for the figural work he was destined to embrace after his careful study of anatomy.

"Roach is cautious not to give the subject of his art meaning; it is easily recognized when talking about allegory with him that he finds anecdote somewhat repugnant. He bristles when discussing whether there is an underlying meaning to the letters and numbers on the wall in his ‘graffiti’ series, or for that matter, in the shapes of the auxiliary elements of his other works such as in the rockery and cloud formations. Roach is beside himself when recollecting people’s imaginative attempts to see something beyond the mere image he presents.

"He enjoys the comparison of his concept of art to that of James McNeill Whistler’s famous motto ‘art for art sake’. “I don’t want people reading my painting,” and also in his own words; “the graffiti is not meant to represent or say anything. It is only there to speak for the patina of life – the patina of old used walls with dilapidated signage. A sense of the passage of time right up to the present.” He explained his attempts to recreate the Venetian aura of antiquity that he has personally experienced, the sense of time worn environments that result from the degeneration of various levels of renovation, the stucco and mortar crumbling from the brick and so forth. This along with his deep interest in Zen painting and the concept of ‘automatic writing’ led me to believe that Roach was working as much as a medium as he was an artist.

"Philosophically, he presents himself as nonreligious, with some of his titles for figurative paintings suggesting antagonism toward Christian orthodoxy. At the same time his use of religious imagery gives credence to contemporary thought by philosophers such as Joseph Campbell and Michael Tucker, that the ‘lost soul of the modern artist’ is trying to regain contact with a system of belief beyond the secular. Tucker could have a field day with Roach’s 'wingy-people.' Even at such a reflective point in the artist’s life, a point at which most people would be searching for avenues to make peace with their maker, he remains steadfast in his tentative love for nature and distrust of organized religion. The only tag he feels somewhat comfortable wearing is that of animist; perhaps realizing that, the great highs we get from nature are always balanced by potential disaster inherent in its omnipotence.

"The archetypal characters Roach peoples his late figurative paintings with are for the most part ugly. This is no accident; the rough and rugged impression they exude helps Roach describe his feeling about the small-minded ugliness common to small town insularity. He had many unpleasant experiences as an outsider while in Cape Breton. “Heez frum awaiee,” wheezed Roach as he mimiced their accent sardonically.

"This perceived rejection may have been in large part the result of his inability to accept their ways and meld into the community, but his resulting impression of how stupid and cruel people can become in an isolated context is well expressed in his work of that period. Many of his archetypal figures are not accidentally ugly. He has always had contempt for social injustice no matter what the source: as a result of religious dogmatism; as young tuffs bullying in a playground, or from the small-minded attitudes he was confronted with in rural Cape Breton. The angst that Roach’s images reflect is probably common to many in modern day society. If this is true, his work expresses much about who we are, and what needs to be changed. Is Roach’s own saving grace his ability to retreat to the solace found in nature? Alas, even here his paint expresses an aura of doom within mysterious atmospheric effects.

"Is it possible that Roach’s ‘graffiti’ anticipated or prefigured the common street-art that claims the dubious title? To contemporary viewers the connection between graffiti, and what is seen on Roach’s paintings is unmistakable, yet in the beginning he did not even include the term or concept of graffiti in his descriptions of them: “It is not about graffiti – it is about paint,” he insisted.

"The darkroom of Bellanger’s studio in Montreal, where Roach often developed photographs, looked down on a boy’s-school playground, “no grass - only concrete, chalk marks and barbed wire - pointing inward, I guess it was to keep the kids in,” he chuckled. There were markings on the cement meant to facilitate game playing, but they were seemingly never used. Most of what Roach remembers is the bullying: “I guess they have to learn what life is about, they might as well start early.” This disdainful reflection mirrors the feeling one gets from reviewing his ‘playground’ series. These were the images that induced much of what Roach did in 1962-63 and particularly his introduction of graffiti. The violent activity of what might be considered a poignant example of social decay was a bold stimulus for the painterly concepts Roach wanted to express. It was an action packed contest between anger and fear--ideal for an angry or troubled artist with a loaded brush!

 "Roach’s manner of layering the picture plane with the help of graffiti, and broad areas of contrasting tone appears to be a very novel way of developing perspective and three dimensional space, “The walls stop and the graffiti continues on into the space - is it on the painting or on the walls?” This falsetto retort, head twisted to one side, ended with a Cape Breton hiss as if imitating a scoundrel on the high seas. He refers to one of these paintings as a ‘billboard’ again emphasizing the relation between object and subject.

"Another innovation, one apparently with concurrent roots in New York, ‘Post Modern Gaming’ for which Roach had been using the term, ‘free association’ is his most recent foray into the unknown. He was not aware that such a movement existed until Roger Boulet made the connection in the catalogue to his 1993 exhibition, Gerald Roach: A Survey. Roach explains this coincidence by comparing it to scientific research at a point when scientists may solve the same problem at the same time in different locations, “it shows that its (the discovery) time has come.”

"In the visual arts Roach has covered much ground: one summer while still a young man he studied mosaics at the University of British Columbia; he has also done photography for which he won high praise, with some of his images entering the permanent collection of the National Film Board (NFB) stills department in Ottawa; his abstract graphic designs for rugs woven by his mother were featured in the Nova Scotia pavilion at Expo 67; most of his 1960’s ‘assemblages’, created from found wooden objects, were destroyed or lost at his former residence in Montreal, but the few that remain are a tribute to his masterful sense of design; and the leading edge collages that are an important part of Tony Onley’s oeuvre of the early 60’s are similar to some of  Roach’s done in the late 50’s (the one seen here is from 1959).

"The laborious technique used for his watercolours (gouaches) gives them the appearance of oil paintings, and his drawings emulate etchings because of the copious hatchings employed to build up the Rembrandt-like images. Regardless of medium, technique, and stage of development, I hope as you get to know Roach’s work better you can agree that his entire oeuvre is unified by great creative talent.

"I am also sending up-to-date photographs of Gerald Roach beside his paintings of Waterfall in Three Parts and Cathedral Waterfall #2.
This shows the relative size of many of his late paintings, circa 1990. Although some of his earlier period works are quite large most are relatively smaller, and many of the 60’s paintings I have seen are close to the 2’ x 3’ format. The enclosed photocopy of the newspaper clipping and photograph of the same 1963 painting, Billboard, illustrates what I believe to be the largest work of the scabrous period - 3’ x 4’. Franz Kline had used large formats in order to express the enormity of the New York environment whereas Roach had an intimate relation to nature and may not have felt a need to compete; but instead, a need to commune with it. Modest size paintings are always more intimate and thus would be more in keeping with his relation to his subject at the time." - Robert Setters

see: Art Gallery of the South Okanagan and Colin S. MacDonald, A Dictionary of Canadian Painters, Vol.7, 2150

Most recent event back in Atlantic Canada Writing on the Wall (Confederation Centre, PEI)

      Rescuing Turner: A New Age of Art Discovery: r malcolm setters / graham setters