Critic's Choice

With cardboard, tape and hands, Steve Roden paints 'A Year Without Painting'

The 10 new paintings in Steve Roden’s “A Year Without Painting” at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects look as if they were made in a rush — and not for the usual reasons.

Roden’s ferociously efficient acrylics on canvas neither suggest that he fell behind schedule and had to churn out a show, nor that he has cranked out a batch of look-alike knockoffs to meet market demand. Instead, his no-frills abstractions paint a portrait of an artist at war with himself — or at least with the last 20 years of his life, when he has made painterly magic by going slowly.

With impressive consistency, Roden has shown himself to be a master adapter, a painter who looks long and hard, doubts everything and goes back to a canvas so many times that his finished compositions have the presence of a half-dozen paintings — not to mention styles, palettes and atmospheres — piled atop one another.

The best way to engage those paintings is to meander through their labyrinthine passages, getting lost in the details. Lovely discoveries happen by accident and otherwise.

Roden made this new work after taking a year off from painting. When he went back he decided to give up on brushes and use only cardboard, masking tape and his hands. Woodcuts come to mind. As do hastily made graphics and DIY propaganda posters.

The results leave no room for leisurely perusal. Your eyes race around sharply angled compositions, restlessly and frenetically and with increasing anxiety. Space is fractured, its fragments dangerous. The palette is lean and mean. Its combinations of orange, green, pink, white and sooty brown seem random if not desperate, the straight-from-the-tube directness anything but pure.

The point of no return is where these paintings get started. Decisiveness is Roden’s goal and modus operandi.

Despite the whiplash decisions that his paintings make palpable, it’s impossible to take them in quickly. They don't let you off the hook, and they don't let you get lost in the pleasure of the moment. They demand acute attentiveness and make you work for it.

That’s the opposite of what happens with five mixed-media works on paper Roden made in collaboration with Leslie Ross-Robertson. Subtle, delicate and dreamy, these unique prints attest to the complexity of Roden’s affections as well as to the depth of his love for art’s multilayered purposes.

Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, 6006 Washington Blvd., Culver City, (310) 837-2117, through March 5. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.vielmeter.com

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