In his international exhibitions American photographer Roe Ethridge wittily melds an eclectic and obscure collection of conceptual, commercial, and everyday images. Recombining and recontextualising them in wry and disjointed non-linear narratives he subverts the conventional boundaries within photography.Read More
Working in New York, Roe Ethridge captures the world around him through the classic genres of portrait, landscape, and still life, taking pictures ranging from the spontaneous snap to the meticulously staged set. He combines conceptual art with family photos, commercial photography—outtakes of his own professional work for publications like The New York Times and Vice—and borrowed imagery. Thus the artist creates an uneasy tension between the generic art historical and the disturbingly intimate.
There is always something not quite right with the images Roe Ethridge chooses to bring together: odd associations, visual disparity, convoluted hidden themes. His imagery is, as he described to David Campany, '"right" in its wrongness.'
Raised in Atlanta, Roe Ethridge studied photography at the Atlanta College of Art, graduating with a BFA in 1995. He moved to New York in the same year as his first solo show overseas—Floral Arrangements at Scalo Galerie, Zurich (1997)—and his inclusion in the Atlanta Biennial at Atlanta's Nexus Contemporary Art Center (now Atlanta Contemporary), preceded by several other significant group shows in Atlanta and New York.
Roe Ethridge's hallmark approach of cross-pollinating disparate genres made its first public appearance in 2001 at MoMA PS1, the Queens branch of The Museum of Modern Art. Seizing an appealing outtake from a professional shoot for the magazine Allure and mixing that with an image of a UPS Mail Innovations store, the artist blurred the boundaries between his 'artistic' and 'commercial' practices. He cites Lee Friedlander and Andy Warhol as early inspirations—artists who subvert the distinctions between the different functions and sub-genres of art.
In 2001 Roe Ethridge also featured in the exhibition the americans. new art. at the Barbican Centre, London, which examined the new wave of American contemporary art. Since then he has continued to feature in key exhibitions at prominent museums and institutions that include Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh; the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; The Museum of Modern Art in New York; and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. He also contributed to the Whitney Biennial 2008 in New York.
Beyond the contemporary art events and institutions of the United States, Roe Ethridge has gained significant recognition in Europe. In 2011 he was shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in Berlin. His first major survey, curated by Anne Pontégnie, was shown at Le Consortium in Dijon (2012) followed by Belgium's Museum Leuven (2012).
The content of Roe Ethridge's exhibitions and recent survey, such as Old Fruit at Gagosian, New York (2020), reveals strong contrasts in style, sentiment, and subject between individual works. The detached Pigeon (2001) and the quietly atmospheric Rockaway Beach (2008) are jarringly different from the highly emotive but staged Ambulance Accident (2000).
While often bringing together seemingly unconnected images, there is usually some common thread for which they have been collectively repurposed. Roe Ethridge's artwork examines themes that range from the imagery and feeling of a summer vacation nearing its end—such as the series 'Shelter Island' (2016)—to the superfluity of luxury, as explored in the series 'Le Luxe' (2011).
Sometimes Roe Ethridge's themes are even less tangible, as seen in the photobook American Spirit (2017). Referencing a cigarette brand whose packages appear in some of his works, pages of the book are layered photocollages drawn from a random collection of images stored on Ethridge's computer, subverting and challenging the conventions of art photography.
Biography by Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020