Stingrays by Ben Roth soar across the ceiling of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center. His collaboration with Summit High School students rises outside the school. Bikes get locked to his whimsical animal racks outside the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
Roth has made his mark on the valley with public pieces, private commissions and in galleries.
This month he broke out of the closed boundaries of Jackson’s mountains and installed his debut show in Santa Barbara, California.
The Funk Zone, as it is known, is home to Santa Barbara’s arts, business and industrial district. On June 14 the menagerie of 10 metallic creatures in Roth’s show “Speciation” invaded a tintype portrait studio in the area called La Chambre Photographique during the monthly Funk Zone Art Walk.
The show, advertised in California by Seasons magazine as the exhibition where “wilderness meets metal,” is a celebration of nature’s continual evolutionary art: speciation, the formation of new species. As Roth says in his artist statement, “Nature’s current body of work is always sublime, never finished.”
To honor the elegance of animals’ forms, Roth chose metal screen as his medium.
He finds a simple beauty in the ability to create curves in screen with only, as he says, “my arms, my will, and a comprehension of the material.” No power source was used on the sculptures until he welded the seams.
Roth’s pieces suggest movement in the arcing curves of metal screen as well as in the filtering of light as it passes through the creatures. In some cases the shadows of the complex figures serve as the greater art. Either way, Roth succeeded in his desire to “engage viewers in the riddles of form and motion.”
Roth counts the show as a success. The exhibit began riding its wave long before it reached the coast of California. Upon hearing of Roth’s plans to show outside Jackson Hole, several valley residents approached him to purchase some of the screen animals.
Invited by former Jackson resident Lindsey Ross to show in her studio in California, Roth was enthused to discover that the space was “perfect for an installation.” The show was one of his more coherent ones. He thinks it came together because of his knowledge of the space beforehand as well as the amount of time he had to prepare a body of work.
While his metal forms were priced a bit above those of the average pieces in the art walk, Roth sold some of them and received commissions for several others. He says the recognition he received and the excitement for his work were heartening to find outside his hometown.
Roth is back in Jackson and at work on pieces to show here in November or December. He plans to create more animals while also working on other projects. Though some animals may crawl into Jackson shows, many of the creatures he crafted remain in Santa Barbara.
A hammerhead shark now swims in the window of Restaurant Roy. And four of Roth’s other pieces are for sale at Onward Art and Design, where, Ross said, they “fit right in” with the funky paintings, sculptures and furniture the gallery is known for.
No matter how many pieces he sold, artists he met or connections he made, Roth says one of the most inspiring things about his trip was the perspective he gained on Jackson’s art scene.
“Jackson’s art scene rivals that in other small communities,” Roth said. The community is “pushing the boundaries as well as anyone.”