Visual artist and musician Steve Roden (’86 BFA Fine Arts) died on Wednesday, September 6, 2023. He was 59. He is survived by his wife, Sari Takahashi-Roden (’87 BFA Communication Arts, Illustration), his mother Susan Roden, and a large circle of friends and family. A Celebration of Life event will be announced at a later date.
Roden was born in Los Angeles to a life filled with art, architecture, music, and travel. While still a student at Beverly Hills High School he started his first band, the Seditionaries (1979-1982), who would go on to perform with such noted bands as the Circle Jerks, T.S.O.L., and The Damned. He followed his BFA—received in 1986 from what was then known as Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design—with an MFA from ArtCenter College of Design, and studied with artists including Emerson Woelffer, Mike Kelley, Stephen Prina, and Gary Panter. He and Takahashi-Roden married in 1993 and eventually purchased a Wallace Neff Airform Bubble House (1946) in Pasadena, where he established a studio, dubbed “in between noise.”
Since his death was made public there has been an outpouring of testimonials about Roden made by friends, fans, musicians, artists, and art world figures. Among them were members of the Otis Community.
“Like so many others, I admired Steve Roden for the boundlessness of his interests, the range of his experiments, and the limitless quality of his works. Steve Roden showed us all what art can be,” said Meg Cranston, Chair of BFA and MFA Fine Arts programs at Otis College.
Classmate Alan Nakagawa (’86 BFA Fine Arts) recalled their college years: “Steve and I grew up together at Otis starting in 1982. In 1988, we collaborated through Collage Ensemble Inc. on a performance titled Kodomo Micro Opera, which eventually was presented at the Japan America Theater at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo and which the Los Angeles Times reviewed. The thing I keep thinking about is that his best friend at Otis, at least for the first and second years, was artist Ray Navarro, who died of AIDs in the 1990s in New York. Ray also went on to become a well-established artist who also had a very short life. It’s unbelievable that Steve is no longer alive. I am in awe of his wife Sari, who also was at Otis around the same time as us. The challenges she and Steve’s family have had to live through is really hard to comprehend. They are amazing people.”
Meg Linton, a former curator of the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis and an artworker, writer, and producer, wrote Roden’s obituary, which reads, in part:
“Steve centered his life upon the making of connections and meaning by experimenting with visual imagery, music, language, code, translation, listening, and the amassing of various collections of objects and ephemera. In a KCET Artbound interview with Sharon Mizota from 2012, he shared, ‘It’s a very personal way of moving through the world to connect things that really weren’t meant to be connected.’ Steve built his life in much the same way as he constructed his visual musical scores or his paintings, drawings, collages, sound installations, and films. He thoughtfully translated his intimate observations of the ‘unnoticed’ things in his environment or another artist, writer, philosopher, architect, or musician’s work and made something new—always bringing the past forward, personalizing his conversation with the material, and churning it into a poetic and relevant aesthetic experience for the present.
“Since 1986, Steve has consistently exhibited and performed his work in the United States and abroad. His artwork is held in many public and private collections, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and San Diego, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece. Steve was featured in the Hammer Museum’s landmark exhibition SNAPSHOT: New Art From Los Angeles in 2001. In 2003, he had his first solo exhibition with his L.A. gallerist Susanne Vielmetter at her first location on Wilshire Boulevard. Vielmetter plans to present an exhibition of his work in fall 2024.”
Main image of Steve Roden courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles.