Charles E Roth

Charles E. “Charlie” Roth (American, 1948-) internationally recognized artist, printmaker, illustrator, painter and instructor primarily known for his figurative etchings in aquatint, engravings, paintings and graphite drawings. Charles Roth studied printmaking at the State University of New York College at Fredonia, NY, and after graduation, he served for two years in the U.S. Army as an illustrator for the Government’s General Staff in Washington, DC, doing illustration work for the White House, the Pentagon and the Smithsonian Institution. In the fall of 1973, he furthered his art education in advanced printmaking in the Masters of Fine Arts Program for two years at the State University of New York at Buffalo under noted printmaker Harvey Breverman (American, 1934-), earning his Master Degree in 1975.

After receiving his Masters, Charles Roth encountered the daunting problem of how to continue making his prints without having access to a professional etching press. Since he couldn’t afford to buy one at the size he needed to accommodate the large size and scale of his etchings, he set out to build one. With the help of his father, they designed and built what was believed to be one of the largest etching presses in the country at that time, thus opening the Roth Print Shop out of his garage in Angola, NY. The press was massive in size at 48” x 72”, and was made from scrap printing press parts and various other mechanical pieces, sheet metal, and an assortment of hardware.

“Visiting print shops, machine shops, and junkyards in the Buffalo environs, he assembled an amazing list of useable parts: a large roller from an offset press, scrap angle iron for legs and press bed support, a 6:1 ratio gear box to drive the press, sheet metal for the press bed, springs, casters, and assorted screws and bolts. Carefully designing his etching press to incorporate the most practical and functional use of these objet trouvé materials, Roth produced a beauty of an etching press that included a 48 c 72-inch press bed—large enough to print his most ambitious intaglio ideas. Placing this cherished mechanical creation in his small, wood-framed garage studio heralded the opening of the Roth Print Shop.”[1]

As a printmaker, Roth took inspiration from old magazines such as Life and Look, as well as from old antique photographs of people during the Great Depression as inspiration for his etchings. He would draw and re-draw his figures, then simplify and stylize the image until only the essential expressive elements remained, and typically he would only do small limited edition runs of 20-50 impressions for each image. Some of Charles’ influences include printmaker & sculptor Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000), printmaker Thom O’Connor (American, 1937-) and etcher Robert Ernst Marx (American, 1925-).

“The relaxed pose, the arrested gesture of Roth’s human figures evoke the nostalgia and candid recognition of old photographs.”[2]

“These solemn human representations, presented in their somber costumes of black, confront the viewer at life-size scale. Limiting the figure detail to torso, hands and head, these images become visual icons that imply a déjà vu response—evoking a memory of the monochromatic isolated figures from the Depression Era and “The Roaring Twenties”—or soft-focused subjects from family albums remembered; Daguerre-like portraits reduced to their essential expressive elements.”[3]

Roth has exhibited locally, nationwide and abroad in many juried, group and solo exhibitions, winning numerous awards and prizes for his artwork. Roth credited his wife Beverly Ann (née Shulz) who was a reading teacher in the local school system, as the sustaining force in his efforts to bring his prints to the attention of commercial galleries early on in his career. In the summers, he and his wife would load his portfolio of prints into their car and they would visit various museums in different cities all over the country and in Canada, not only to view the art but to make contacts with the galleries in hopes of selling his artwork. The effort paid off and he soon exhibited and sold his prints in eight different galleries, in cities such as Washington, DC, Chicago, Cincinnati and Toronto. In addition to exhibiting locally, Roth was invited to show four intaglio works as part of the Department of States “Art in Embassies Program” at United States Embassy in Luxembourg in 1976, sharing the spotlight with notable American artists such as Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), Richard Estes (1932-) and Samuel Lewis Francis (1923-1994). He later exhibited three etchings at the “7th International Print Biennale” in 1978 in Kraków, Poland and had a solo show Berne, Switzerland in 1983. He also participated as a fine arts judge in several local art shows in and around Western New York.

He is currently a Professor in the Graphic Arts department at Erie Community College, Orchard Park, NY where he has been teaching for over 36 years. Roth’s printmaking techniques, artwork and life were profiled in the American Artist magazine article titled “The Etchings of Charles Roth”, by Christian Emmitt (Vol. 43 Issue 447, Pgs. 80-85 & 116-117, October 1979). “In the world of contemporary print-making, with the accent upon mixing graphic media, bold color, and large editions, the etchings of Charles Roth stand apart from these current trends both in content and technique. With exclusively with large, figurative compositions and traditional intaglio methods, Charles Roth produces images that are startling in their richness of surface and intimacy of figure gesture.”[4]

“In my etchings, I want the viewer to look at the face and hands of my figures. That is why I negate all decorative detail in their costumes. Surface detail would be a distraction from the mood I want to establish within the pose. Also, I avoid using conventional background compositional devices such as windows, balconies, etc., I prefer the empty space around the figure to allow the viewer to become completely absorbed in interpreting the subtle emotional content and implied dignity of the human subject.”[5] –Charles Roth