Review: Sonic frequency as art? Enter Steve Roden’s captivating prisms of color


Composers and painters often borrow from one another, but rarely are they the same person.

Steve Roden is one of those impressive oddities. New work at Vielmetter Los Angeles once again shows how captivating that rarity can be.

An unexplained system of sonic frequencies is crafted into something vividly visible in abstract paintings, large and small, that unite mark-making and color. No explanation is offered to give details of Roden’s systemic process for developing his dense compositions, but you sense it is there as you look. Improvisational it is, but haphazard it is not.

Not a cloud, beast or blade of grass is seen, but the compositions thrum with natural life. Vectors of rich color thickly or thinly applied zing across the canvas, cradling organic shapes within their geometric intersections. The paintings’ prismatic, crystalline structure paradoxically breathes, as if poised to open and close like a flower.


Perhaps the show’s sound installation is a clue to the pictures’ sources. Made by blowing into a vintage pipe organ’s disassembled wooden reed boxes, it gives sonic form to exhalation. A pair of projected videos, “detritus” (debris) and “orrery” (a mechanical model of the solar system) show the artist manipulating bits of collage into place, although nothing permanently sticks. All is provisional — a discomfiting proposition at first, but ultimately a relief.

The show’s title, “could/cloud,” is written all lower-case, as if you’ve stumbled into the middle of a thought, rather than its beginning. It encapsulates the larger motive. Rational cogency is set aside, replaced by a moving blend of unguarded possibility (could) and amorphous delicacy (cloud). For art, that’s a trade worth making.

Steve Roden

Where: Vielmetter Los Angeles, 1700 S. Santa Fe Ave.
When: Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Aug. 24
info: (213) 623-3280,