Roger Herman has been one of LA's well-kept secrets. Though long admired as professor in the painting and drawing department of UCLA, he has not exhibited his own paintings in LA. since a survey of his early figurative work in 2009. In part, this was due to his lively and successful foray into ceramics, making clay pots with expressionist panache and erotic surface decoration. They were shown two years ago at Richard Telles Gallery and well-received. He also was known for monumental woodblock prints. But what about the paintings? After all, it was painting that brought him LACMA's Young Talent Award in 1983. Born and raised in post-war Germany, with a graduate degree from the art academy of Karlsruhe, Herman came to Northern California on a DAAD grant given by the German government in part because of his interest in the expressionist painting done by the Bay Area figurative painters in the 1950's and 60's. Herman's own early paintings owed a small debt to that work as well as the considerable heritage of German Expressionist art.
However, in LA., Herman also distanced himself from the straightforward emotional punch of those artists. He painted grand canvases based on photographs of stucco apartment blocks, a utilitarian modernism, as well as imagery drawn from art history. His work gained popularity amidst the rise of interest in German painters during the 1980's. In the 1990's, he began concentrating on abstraction on a very large scale.
At Acme Gallery through May 31, a selection of three big paintings from the early 90's and a larger group of paintings from the last couple of years makes a case for the evolution of this approach. Though he has consistently moved back and forth between figurative and abstract art, this show is focused on the latter.
Giant panel paintings of the early 90's are covered entirely by meaty serpentines of rich oil paint in unexpected tones. More recent works were completed on paper and mounted to linen. This is because the artist painted on them, then added woodblock printing, then more painting. The results are dense but not opaque and immensely enjoyable, the culmination of years of experience combined with the excitement of recent discovery. Those discoveries were born in a series of large scale books that the artist has been making by executing woodblock prints on paper and adding painted elements or simply painting pages. They are rough bound in a way that defies preciosity as objects, a quality that he brings to his ceramics as well.
It used to be said that it could take a lifetime to become a good painter. In our Instagram era, such an idea is easily forgotten but a visit to Herman's show is a reminder of its essential truth. For more information, go to acmelosangeles.com.
Banner image: Installation view of "Roger Herman" at Acme Gallery. All images courtesy of Acme Gallery.