Margaret Roleke's life has been spent in New York or the surrounding tri-state area except for three years living in London and two studying in Ohio. Her many trips to Europe, Asia, Central America, and South America have informed her practice. Roleke's art has been exhibited widely in the tri-state area, and also in several international shows. In the last year her work was seen at Scope Miami, Cutlog in New York, Fountain Art Fair in New York, and in several group exhibits in Connecticut, Harlem, and Brooklyn.
Bradley Rubenstein: It was great seeing some of your new pieces. I'm not sure exactly what we should call them -- they are a kind of hybrid print. Can we talk a little about them first? There is a show of works by Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler up now, and these reminded me of a combination of that kind of colorfield painting, but with a Pop Art twist.
Margaret Roleke: Yes, they are a bit hard to define...and your colorfield pop is a good description. They could be described as monochromatic wall reliefs. By painting the multicolored toys that go onto their surface in one tone, I neutralize them and they transform.
BR: What were some of your influences? In fact, tell us a little about your background as an artist.
MR: I cannot point to one artist or movement that influenced me the most. When I was younger, Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman were large influences. Hesse's use of materials in which the hand was present is something that comes through in my pieces. And Nauman gave me permission to create work that was uncomfortable and challenging. My experience of living and taking in the world is what influences my practice most -- travel and visits to art museums.
I have been making work for many years, and like most artists, my work has evolved. I graduated from Long Island University, CW Post, with an MFA. I started there as a painter and left as an installation artist. Right after that time I lived in London for three years and had four children in the next few years. My kids and motherhood itself influenced my earlier work; I created pieces of mothers trapped in rocking chairs and interactive toy-like pieces. As they got older, I got more involved with issues in the world and built seating for day laborers, SARS-related murals, and more politically aware work. In 2005 I made a site-specific installation of toy army men stuck directly to the wall of a gallery, but because of their coloration and how I set them up from a distance, the men read as a snow-covered mountain. That piece was pivotal. The amount of plastic soldiers used correlated to the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq up to that date. But what really happened is I became fascinated with the toy soldiers and created many pieces using them as my "paint."
What still fascinates me is how these pieces can read from a distance as a beautiful abstraction, and only on closer examination do you realize what they are made of. This is also the case in my current work. I like to create a beautiful object, but one which upon examination has references to our current state of world disorder or other issues in politics, the environment, popular culture, gender, and consumerism.
BR: There is an interest not just in paint, but in color and specific ways that they work psychologically.
MR: Yes, the use of color is very important to each piece and evokes an added meaning. For example, the large sculptural piece, Hanging (2014) [left], is composed of Barbie dolls that are missing limbs, along with toy guns, toy soldiers, and other war toys. The Barbie bodies are painted flat black, and the heads are gloss black. This coloration transforms them. They are no longer an idealized Barbie doll; they reference war, conflict, exploitation, and the missing Nigerian girls.
BR: Do you want to talk a little about the current show?
MR: Currently some of my pieces are being shown in GOBSMACKED!, at the gallery Odetta in Brooklyn. It runs through October 5th. The owner, Ellen Hackl Fagan, curated it. She paired me with Charlotte Schulz, who creates intensely intricate large-scale charcoal drawings that present a narrative of a catastrophe and chaos. Her pieces are drawn on several different planes, so the spatial distances are disrupted. Charlotte and I will be speaking about our work at the gallery on Friday, October 3 at 6 PM. www.odettagallery.com
For GOBSMACKED! I am exhibiting five of my wall reliefs, two larger sculptural pieces, and a paper piece. We have touched on the monochromatic wall pieces; three of these are lined up next to one another and play off each other. White Wars (2013), which is made with all army men and war toys, is next to Disorder (2014) [right], a gray piece composed of disturbed homes, fencing, and war objects; it seems to be what happened after the white war. The pink Fairytale Western (2013) is next with its small toy Indians and cowboys. It references the mythology of the great American West.
On the opposite wall I am showing McDonald Land (2014), a sunny yellow wall relief made up of all Happy Meal toys. The piece is in the shape of a stop sign. Tink's Army (2013) is another wall relief that is a more colorful piece; small multicolor war toys and army men are affixed to an image of a sexy Tinkerbelle, which is revealed as the background image. This wall also has one of my monoprints, Jack Rabbit (2013), which is part of a complementary body of work in which I printed Disney and war toy images on top of paper shooting targets. Hanging, my large mobile sculpture that I mentioned before, hangs in the middle of the space with Charlotte Schulz's work dispersed throughout, dialoguing well with my pieces.
The back wall contains a very different piece, the ten-foot high, six-foot wide, and three-foot deep Shells #2 (2014), a site-specific sculptural wall piece made out of spent multicolored shotgun shells. This piece also reads as a beautiful flowing abstraction from a distance. The fact that it is composed of strung-together shotgun shells is only realized on close examination.
Concurrently, Black Barbies #2 (2014), very similar to Hanging, is on view in Harlem in the exhibit I found God in myself at La Maison d'Art through October 24. It is curated by Souleo on the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange's theater piece for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.