by: Elyse Derosia

I first met John at various art openings around the city and became interested in his thoughts on art making after viewing his blog Das kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunst. This studio visit was my first time seeing his studio and his paintings.

Elyse Derosia: Your recent paintings are very process intensive, utilizing hand dying, folding, painting, and bleaching of the canvas. Can you share a bit about these paintings and their process?


John Roebas: With these works the attraction is in creating personal histories unique to each piece. Engaging in a methodical approach to their production, these paintings become literal and physical registers in which action and time has occurred. There are so many steps that will go into any given work that their output becomes rather unpredictable. This creates vulnerability in the works, which opens them up to failure through chance, or allows them to “succeed” in their circumstance.


Rather than painting in a more canonical tradition, these works implement subversive mark makings and more lowbrow materials. I mediate my hand in the works and eliminate literal brush strokes to create an almost non-painting that leans towards more blunt objectivity. Most works go through some sort of enamel, dye, gesso, bleach, spirits and solvent treatment on muslin skins and veils over prepared surfaces. Many of these materials have varying life spans and inherent physical qualities that may change over time due to conditions and environment. So, various applications and elements depend on one another in complementary or opposing relationships. For instance, bleached areas continue to yellow, corrode and eat unsealed surfaces past the time of “completion.” In each work, this creates a post-narrative of ruin-value in its transformative process as it carries the patina of time, much like a chipped teacup or a scar on your knee.

Work table and two works in progress
Work in progress

In your studio, paintings are stacked in groupings, turned to face the wall, leaned against the wall and each other, etc. Do you experiment with the display of your work when exhibiting it publicly, or is that solely an exercise for the studio?


It’s definitely just an organizational thing–a quick way to move works around and place them amongst the other works to see their relationships in different situations. The older finished works are taken better care of and filed away in a manner that’s out-of-view and less likely to be touched again. If they’re on the studio floor, they’re still open to be worked on.


Facing them to the wall is a cheap and easy way to keep them from attracting too much dust since I spray quite a bit, and we haven’t the best ventilation system. In other cases, they’re just paintings that, at the moment, are acting poorly and have been put in the corner to think about what they’ve done.

Two works in progress, two completed works, and two in question

The first thing I notice about your paintings is their formalism, considering their investment in material, the way they document the mark, and how they reference the history of painting as an accumulation of discreet moments in time. These investigations also seem prevalent on your blog (Das kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunst) where you post works of art, with each post responding to the previous in a kind of formal conversation. What do you think about the relationship of formalism to the viewing of art on the internet?


Essentially, Das kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunst is a basic exercise in formalism. And many, if not most, Tumblrs of similar structure and composition are just that: a way of seeing and understanding.


Das kuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunst was created to provide a platform to present and maintain all the JPEGs (the stand-ins for the physical objects) that I’ve saved to my desktop over recent years. For the most part, these representations express similar concerns that I find in my own practice. It’s a means to understand and question similar contemporary themes and another mode to work through my own objects. My hopes are to create a somewhat smooth and accessible linear narrative based on associative qualities.


Images are not provided with a click-through link but every image is attributed to its creator/creators. Tumblrs that completely eliminate any click-through link or source are problematic in that they create the “What the fuck am I looking at?” scenario which divorces the stand-ins from their narrative and content, creating a completely vapid experience that provides no benefit to any party (viewer, creator, purveyor).


The presentation of artworks via their digital stand-ins through a Tumblr is a rather slippery slope. Most physical work is not intended to be viewed in this mediated, two-dimensional realm. Over the last decade or so, the internet has created an ever-widening gap in the perception of artworks, for better and for worse.  First contact and stimulation occur within seconds and the formal qualities appease, but content is much slower to read. The backlit rectangular white cube is really no match for the bodily experience of a work of art. It’s a pacifier, something to just satisfy and hold one over. It can’t contend with the real thing but it’s good for right now. And if all three parties understand this, it’s beneficial.

UNTITLED (2011), 13”x15”, Enamel, Bleach & Gesso on Dyed Muslin over Prepared Canvas support
Two recent compositional mock-ups. (L) Photograph laser print treated with bleach and glue and (R) enamel drawing.

Yes, this way of presenting artworks definitely presents many complex questions. But I tend to feel that the positive aspects outweigh the negative: the ability to make connections that span place and time and then share them with a wide audience is invaluable.


I totally agree. The ability to create this platform where you can place, for instance, Ben Schumacher in conversation with Carl Andre or Kassay next to Palermo is pretty exciting. But power is dangerous. There’s definitely an etiquette that should be observed.


Studio shot

ED: What are you really excited about right now?


I’m excited for the New Year and all its implications of renewal, growth, opportunity, change, yadda yadda yadda….

Also the new Muppets movie that I’ve yet to see. Oh, and Cam’ron just said he’s releasing a new album in April. So that, too.


John Roebas (b. 1985) lives and works in Philadelphia. He received his BFA from the Tyler School of Art. John will be included in, as well as co-curate, a group show at Hungryman Gallery in Chicago this February. He will also be publishing an edition of unique drawings with Bodega Press, located in Philadelphia. John has most recently exhibited at Crane Arts (Philadelphia) where he also maintains his studio. His work can be seen at


Elyse Derosia is an artist and a co-director of Bodega, an exhibition and performance space in Philadelphia founded in 2010.