The following is by M. A. Greenstein from Los Angeles, on October 8, 1994:
CRYPTOLOGIST: What's that knotty veneer covering the sun?
PAINTER: What sun? That's not a sun.
CRYPTOLOGIST: Looks like a deadly snare to me.
PAINTER: Decode! Decode!
The painter transforms the surface to seek the unknowable. The cryptologist deciphers the surface to grasp the unkown. The surface is inexhaustible.
Thinking of recent discussions on DNA coding, Steven LaRose rhetorically asks: "Can we conceive of the very thing that permits us to conceive?" "Can we see the text that creates us?" The artist thus poses a simple though ancient epistemological question: Can the mind (now the brain) know itself? Can we use the (rational) signs of consciousness to understand that which makes us conscious?
Early twentieth-century Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitaro likens the self-reflexive inquiry into human knowledge to one asking, "Can a head look for its head?" "Can a sword cut itself?" In such cases, says Nishida, the rational effort is fruitless, the challenge misguided.
Now, after centuries of examining how, and why, we know what we know, contemporary philosopher, scientist and artist find accord in accepting the cryptological aspect of human knowing. We have only the awesome power to create knowledge by way of signs and symbols. Our knowledge of the world is forever mediated by configurations of intuitive meaning. Meaning is that matrix of complex and oftentimes, contradictory relations between things and no-things. Relations are more like sticky webs of possibility rather than slick links of power. Relations, painterly and otherwise, are born into absolute nothingness.
The following is by Betty Seid for a class she was taking from James Yood. It is in response to my first solo show at Space Gallery in Chicago. As far as I'm concerned, she nailed it:
There are two ways of exploring the universe: introspectively, looking for ever smaller building blocks of existence; or expansively, recognizing the self as the smallest of creatures within the enormity of the cosmos. Depending on philosophy or point of view, Steven LaRose's Foliated series can be seen as a visual representation of either process. His paintings have an architectural orderliness that is often shocking to discover in the organic - a pristine crystalline landscape in a gooey blob of protoplasm, usually evident only through the lens of a microscope. And they reveal layers of webs that must be probed to understand the depth of the universe - the distance to be traveled, defined by a far away light. Whatever the approach, be it macro- or micro-, the artist has reversed the viewer's expected point of view. With the light source a visible orb glaring out blindingly, it is the viewer, and hence the artist, who is on display.
The layering of image in LaRose's paintings is created by layers of polymer on board. Their hard glossy surface is attained with the application of a coat of polymer over each stratum of image. Each web sits encased in its own dimension, covering the surface, allowing the viewer to see into and through it before it can be transcended. Swimming through the shining depths toward blinding light, the viewer becomes part of the painting, drawn in and kept out at the same time. There are seven large works in this exhibition and 18 small pieces (approx. one foot square). All use the same "foliated" formula. An over-all background pattern is laid down: either a geometric/organic blend of landscape seen from a great height, or a spattered faux-granite surface, or merely a wash of muted color. Overlaid, and centrally placed, is an orb of painted white light, occasionally with a soft golden-hued aureole. In the middle ground is suspended either a shower of floating forms - tiny colored spheres, beans, or some other amorphous configuration - or a finely wrought web of filigree, each rendered with careful attention to the distant light source that illuminates them. Finally, LaRose creates a bold linear barrier that presses up against the picture's surface, but is still formally obedient to the glaring light. This takes the form of rough tree limbs, distressed furniture spindles or weathered wroght iron grillwork. It has been left unglazed and thus jumps off the painted surface, challenging the viewer to penetrate its open spaces into the illusionistic beyond.
The largest painting in the show, A Map of the Map, exemplifies the formula with a distant landscape background, blinding central void of white light, and two backlit tubular filigree networks - one red, one ochre - that meet and entwine in the middle of the horizontal format. Each layer is encapsulated in glossy polymer, enhancing the effect of real light emanating from the painted spot of white. The unglazed surface pattern can be read as a greatly magnified black web with much open work. But here LaRose departs from his usual furmula, allowing a simple shift of the viewer's vision to convert dimension from convex to concave. The surface reads as the sort of network of depressions that form on parched and baked earth. Either way, it works. This painting (as are the others) is indeed a map - cosmological and geographical, interior and exterior - an exploration of the existence of physical and psychological space.
The 18 smaller paintings are hung as a unit, two rows of nine, and although they are being sold individually, they function as a sketchbook for intimate investigations of the larger formal themes. In The Spirit of Gravity, for example, the forward-most unglazed element is not linear but rather a floating school of rough textured black lumps. LaRose also experiments with color in this smaller format. In two of the paintings the usual white light has been replaced by black, an interesting twist both visually and metaphorically. In Riprap, color is the primary feature. The distant background is black, speckled with primary colors. The standard format continues with a blinding white spot, in front of which is a layer of primary colored irregular shapes - the specks of distant space have floated forward, their dimensions defined by the light behind them. And the matte surface barrier consists of a mesh of gnarled brown branches.
LaRose paints within the well-defined parameters of the formal exercise that he has set for himself. The path is marked and he has graciously invited the viewer to join him. Whether the journey is external, moving through and away from grids of confinement out into the labyrinthal tissue of the universe, or internal, toward the most basic space within the center of a cell, it is a path of exploration with the same ultimate goal: exfoliation until the totality of light is attained.