John Roloff at Paule Anglim

Art in America, April 1992
By Gay Morris

For many years, Bay Area artist John Roloff has used the image of a ship as a metaphor for exploration and discovery. His newest installation called Metafossil (metabolism and mortality), once again employs the sip image, this time in three large hull forms that seem to be either sinking into or rising out of the floor. The objects are made of cement that looks like blackened earth, and each is covered in a different genus of pine needles. The needles, some long and coarse, others short and feathery, will eventually disintegrate to leave fossil-like impressions in the cement. Roloff describes Metafossil as a "eulogy to a former era and environment."

The element of transformation, so central to his work, is often found in Roloff’s art. In the past he has created sculptures that acted like kilns and which he fired in spectacular events. The burned-out remains became permanent works, left in-situ. Later this year, in a piece created for the San Francisco Arts Commission, Roloff intends to erect a glass ship hull that will eventually become green from vegetation growing within the transparent vessel.

In these various ways, Roloff calls attention to the passage of time and to the elements of earth, fire and water. It’s undoubtedly no accident that his undergraduate degree was in geology. Yet in addition to scientific interest, Roloff also gives his works a romantic aura. They celebrate a nature that is both mysterious and beautiful, while their form suggests adventure, distant lands and the unknown.

In addition to Metafossil, the gallery also showed some large mixed-medium works that incorporate photographs. These sometimes appear to be related to Roloff’s fired sculpture projects. Study: Orchid Eclipse, for instance, focuses on a flower-like form he has used before in kiln sculptures, and Study mit Grünwald: Falling Knight Furnace/Forest, depicts the chimneys of Roloff’s kilns superimposed on photographs of trees and an image of a Grünwald figure. Another series, "Iron Sails: Oxidation/Respiration/Entropy," incorporates photographic images of huge masts and multiple sails that dwarf the cities behind them and appear to be inexplicably rusting on the spot. These works, created on curling pieces of canvas tacked to the wall are reminiscent of the fantastic structures conjured up by Baroque artists like Giuseppe Bibiena.