San Francisco

Andrej Roiter

Jack Hanley Gallery

Since the late ’80s, the greater part of Andrej Roiter’s work has been painted a shade of brownish-green, ubiquitous in his native Moscow, where countless gallons of this drab olive have been used to cover everything from hospital walls to military hardware. As if to emphasize the way in which he carries his own world wherever he goes, Roiter—a nomadic expatriate who divides his time between Europe and the United States—had the main wall of the gallery painted a dark, mossy hue, creating an environment that reflected the color of several pieces in the show. Most of the work on view also featured another motif from earlier Roiter works: a circular configuration of slots, either drawn or actually piercing the surface of the work, resembling the speaker grille of an old-fashioned radio. These enigmatic holes decorate everything from cardboard boxes and an edition of T-shirts to a concrete-covered milk carton. They are clearly meant to suggest that there is some kind of hidden voice inside or (sub)text to these works. The boxes, shown both on the wall and on the floor, are called “text containers”; paintings covered with a layer of concrete are often titled “monologues.”

The subject matter of Roiter’s drawings reinforces the implied narrativity of these pieces. In Waiting For, (all works 1992), a Chinese youth in a Mao cap listens intently to the radio/text container he holds in one hand, while in Time Landscape an exotic-looking figure dressed in white looks out over a graveyard of radios scattered across the ground into the hazy middle distance. A large portrait of Freud, Freud shows the good doctor clasping a box with a faux grille close to his chest, near a small sketch of two naked nymphs hovering over yet another slotted container. The soft, rubbed-looking surfaces of these drawings, as well as the temporally distant, dreamy nature of the scenes depicted, suggest that these “stories” come to us (and to Roiter) from a long way off.

By refraining both past and present in terms of a somewhat idiosyncratic private mythology, Roiter seems to have deliberately placed himself in a peripatetic, distanced relationship to history and culture. In a sly revision-cum-appropriation of a famous Kasimir Malevich composition, Malevich the Suprematist’s red rectangles have been rendered instead in—what else?—green, on a grainy, almost organically irregular support of canvas and concrete. Despite the quintessentially Russian color he has chosen for so many of his works, Roiter seems to be as far away from the land of his birth as he is from his present adopted home(s). Taken as a group, his pieces can be seen as a playful scheme to invent his own private geography, like a child’s special secret imaginary world. The organic associations of his favorite color also suggest the possibility of a postcatastrophic ecology, in which objects are colored in shades named for what has been irrevocably lost: forest-green, dusty-sage, terre verte.

In a way, the strength of Roiter’s work lies in the ambiguity of his signature motifs outside of their Soviet context. Empty and silent, his cheerfully lumpy objects function somewhat paradoxically as little portable pieces of home. These wistful visual mnemonics are not just for Mother Russia, however, but for Home, the verdant, mythical/historical place of sunny skies: for another, more innocent time, before all the rules were changed on us.

Maria Porges