Title: Where is Mission School?
Medium: Oil on Canvas
Size: 36 x 24 in
“Where is Mission School?” was started in 2007 after reading an article in Artnews magazine titled New Visionaries: Contemporary Artists are Picking up by Barbara Pollack. He found that some old friends from the San Francisco Art Institute started an art movement called Mission School. The concept was inspirational, but the thought saddened him. Living in Prague, his geographical distance felt solid and real. His painting was initially called “Jesus tomb and the Mission School Blues”. The “Jesus tomb” part was inspired by the recent discovery of the so called “Lost Tomb of Jesus”. On the right side of the painting there is an image of the tomb but it was later covered up by a painting of a large red “Amanita Muscaria” mushroom. The artist continued to develop the work by painting over the images with new paintings and documenting each step with a photographic record. This layering and photo-preservation of multiple paintings is the backbone of the “Back-story Underpainting” series.
In the center of the painting is a self portrait of the artist as Napoleon holding onto the push stick for a Rocking Horse (Dada) Bear on skis. The rocking bear is a subtle reference to the Dada Surrealist Movement. There are hints of the Northwest Brown Bear on skis, symbolizing his personal experience during a skiing accident where he broke both of his legs at the age of 8, just weeks after getting out of the hospital for corrective surgery on his severe club feet. The use of Napoleon suggests the theme of a short statured man becoming a ruler and the transformational properties inherent in the complex. Sam is only 4 feet, 9 inches in height and uses crutches to walk.
To the left of the image is Jesus tied to an old tree as opposed to the traditional cross in the background. The whole lower half of the painting contrasts with the bright blue sky. Beneath are submerged reference to the nuances of blind faith as dark and dangerous focuses lures toward death and torture. In the top half of the image is Hot Air Balloons, a Bi-Plane and a bird in flight. The empty basket in the Balloon invites the viewer to climb in and float above. The two windmills express the optimistic intersection of science and hope. The water tower was added from Sam Roloff’s memories of driving up and down the I5 corridor in California. He would often see the graffiti that gave Barry McGee his signature name “Twist” because of the icon of a screw twisting in the air. This image often begged the question as to “Where is Mission School?” and he answered with “on i5”. This is his “calling out” to the mission school; saying “where are you?” and “what are you now?”
This work is one of the first great examples of “Back-story Underpainting” and has since inspired him to continue to participate regardless of geography and the complicating factors of parenting and time in this large conversation we have about art in life, after change, symbolic of growth, tethered to the past, eroded by the moment, infused with the now.