M A R K R O L L E R
In the late 1980s I began a project which quickly became the sole focus of my work: what I call a “serial portrait” of a single person, Colette Crutcher, my wife. Starting with a desire to document the physical and psychological changes she underwent while pregnant with our first child I became fascinated with the possibilities inherent in an ongoing depiction of an individual through time; time being the dimension missing from a conventional portrait. Doing a series of works, over a long period, has allowed me to attempt to represent Colette, in many different aspects, as a whole person. Of course, this attempt will always remain just that, an attempt, the goal elusive, the results provisional.
Rather than dealing in the objective facts of Colette’s biography, I want, instead, to convey, as completely as I can, my understanding of her subjective experience, through the medium of her body, the outward manifestation of her inward self. Poses and gestures, and indeed all of the other elements in a sculpture or painting, are meant to express a state of mind or emotion, especially those states which recur and are therefore most characteristic of Colette.
I hope that my work, with its admittedly peculiar single-mindedness, impinges on other issues as well, most especially the problematical history of male representations of women. The privileging of the “male gaze” and the objectification of women in Western image making seems, to me, to be the consequence of a process of generalization in which representations of women are rendered as stereo- (or arche-) types. By being as specific as I possibly can be, I want to counteract this pernicious generalizing impulse, so that the result is not one more depiction of “Woman”, or even a statement concerning “women” as a class. I make no claim to any knowledge of “women.” and doubt that such “knowledge” can be anything more than a chimera of prejudicial thinking Rather, my ambition is to confront the viewer with an evocation of an individual, one I know very well, who happens to be a woman (as I happen to be a man). In certain pieces, Colette’s gender is thematically important, even central; in other pieces, it’s not significant at all. Can the male desire to make images of women, which seems so deeply rooted (in our culture, at least), be redeemed in this fashion? I don’t know, but it seems worth trying.
I’ve recently come to see that one of the themes running through this work is creativity, or perhaps more precisely, creation itself. Colette is doubly a creator, both as a woman, hence pregnancy and birth as recurrent subjects, and as an artist, hence the many pieces dealing with her studio and her life, frustrating, daunting and joyful by turns, within it.
Another element of my work which has only gradually infiltrated my slow-witted mind is how much of myself leaks into the work, no matter how much I want it to be about Colette—paradoxically my portrait becomes an inadvertent self-portrait as well. Although I find this troublesome, I accept it as unavoidable. Incidentally, people sometimes assume the work is a self-portrait by Colette herself, but I have no interest in encouraging that mistake, nifty though it might be as a post-modern stratagem. The work is most definitely a portrait—done by an observer looking at his subject from the outside, getting things wrong and filling in the blanks with his own subjective materials. (Colette saw the inevitability of this from the outset.)
Other “big ideas”, like questions concerning the limits of representation and our ability to truly know another human being, have occupied my mind intermittently over the years. But, the overwhelming reason I do what I do is ultimately deeply personal, and very simple: Colette is the most significant fact of my life. I can’t think of another subject that could engage me as fully.----Mark Roller
Technical note: Much of my work is most efficiently described as mixed media, because any given piece might include painting, relief, collage, photographs, real objects and be made of combinations of wood, plaster, acrylic gels and modeling pastes, and, in one instance, fiberglass. Some of the figures in the sculptural pieces are plaster body casts of Colette.