A BRUSH with passion
By Chris Bergeron / Daily News Staff

Thursday, September 15, 2005

For thirty years, David Wells Roth has pursued an elusive goal: to paint the world exactly as it appears.


     Growing up in Sudbury in the 1970s, his early talent earned him a scholarship to study painting at Boston University. He then painted on the streets of New York City and spent 15 years in Paris studying the dance of light that enflamed old masters like Rembrandt and Renoir.


     "My painting reveals my passion to pull a three-dimensional form out of a two-dimensional surface," said Roth from his Framingham studio. "I've always been drawn to realism. It's more interesting to depict a universe I can step into."


     When Roth paints, he makes ordinary scenes luminous.


     A shabby green cottage shimmers like a cathedral amid the marsh grass of Truro. Fading daylight bathes Times Square in a sheen of warm colors.


     In a timeless still life, a table is set with a loaf of hard bread, a wood-handled knife and two onions.


     Roth is exhibiting 40 new paintings in a weekend show in Boston that features strong recent work completed over the last 18 months.


     His paintings will be displayed for viewing and sale at the South End Open Studios Saturday and Sundayfrom 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The fourth-floor gallery is located at 500 Harrison Ave., Boston.


     Roth said his recent work "focuses very strongly on nature. ...I try to understand the play of light and form and how it affects what we see," he said.


     Featuring mostly oil paintings and some watercolors, the works on display include New England landscapes and seascapes, urban scenes, still lifes and figure studies.


     Relaxing in his third-floor workshop in the Fountain Street Studios in southside Framingham, Roth described himself as "a realist with an Impressionist Bio


     A tall, rawboned man with an unassuming manner, he chooses his words carefully when discussing his work. "There's an interpretive element. I'm not trying to paint like a photographer," Roth said. "The interpretation comes through the colors. I'm looking for a dimensionality you can't get in a photograph."


     Roth's lifelong passion for painting has carried him from his hometown to academia, from Greenwich Village to an expatriate's life in France.


     Encouraged by his mother, Bernice Roth, who studied art in college, he started painting as a third-grader. He believes his childhood interest in painting took a crucial turn when his physicist father, Robert Roth, explained the fundamentals of perspective to him as a youngster.


     Looking back, Roth believes the early combination of artistic and technical instruction shaped a "deep-seated impulse" to capture three-dimensional reality on canvas.


     "As a kid, my parents exposed me to museums where I saw lots of great paintings by Rembrandt (van Rijn) and (Pierre-Auguste) Renoir. Even then, I saw them as ideals to learn from," he said.


     Attending Lincoln-Sudbury High School, Roth kept bullies at bay by drawing cartoons and caricatures for them and completing their art homework assignments.


     His painting was so advanced as a teenager he earned a Ford Foundation scholarship to Boston University where he continued his studies.


     After college, Roth spent three years setting up his easel around New York outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art or in Central Park selling his paintings and chasing commissions.


     "I refused to get a job because I wanted to focus on what I'd learned," he said. "People gathered around me when I painted so I had to learn to focus and concentrate. I was able to stay ahead of starvation."


     In 1982, Roth accepted an invitation to visit a friend in Avignon in south France -- and ended up living the expatriate life.


     "I suppose you could say it was a romantic impulse. I needed money so I sold my return air ticket," he said. "I intended to stay four months and it turned into 15 years."


     Roth rented a small apartment in Le Pre St. Gervais in the outskirts of Paris, took classes and sold his paintings on the street.


     He traveled throughout England and Europe, stopping to paint landscapes along Italy's Amalfi Coast and Venice.


     Like the classical painters he admired, Roth was inspired by the play of sunlight in Italy, France and the Low Countries.


     "I'm not sure if the sun is brighter there but it sure comes through in a special way," he said. "The sunsets of Venice were full of rich reds and golds. I used to think Rembrandt invented that special light of Holland until I saw it for myself."


     In Paris, Roth had five solo and numerous group shows while returning intermittently to the Massachusetts
for commission work in Boston and several East Coast restaurants and businesses.


     Roth said his years abroad provided the freedom to explore his own art and the opportunity to observe firsthand the works of the European masters he admired.


     "I never tired of looking at works by Rembrandt and the Impressionists," he said. "Rembrandt was the first Impressionist and the first to break form light. I want to speak that language."


     He remains determined to incorporate those lessons into his new paintings of American nature scenes. "For me painting revolves around the drive to understand the forms within nature," said Roth. "I'm not sure if I hit the mark. I try. I try to find the truth in nature."


     Since returning to the Massachusetts
in 1998, Roth has worked as an illustrator for clients as varied as the Wall Street Journal, the History Channel and actor Keifer Sutherland. His most visible work comprises a series of large historic murals based on the life of 18th-century Worcester printer and publisher Isiah Thomas in the Union Oyster House in Boston.


     While working as an illustrator, Roth took a seven-year hiatus from oil painting. "I felt I was heading in a different direction," he said. "My commission work was so demanding I drifted away from fine arts."


     Now living in Framingham, he relaxes by canoeing along the Sudbury and Assabet Rivers.


     His work can also be viewed and purchased at the Julie Heller Studio Gallery in Provincetown.


     Waiting for his Boston show, Roth said, "I hope my new work can be seen in this show and in the gallery. I'm really hopeful a museum shows some interest."


     Since renting space in Fountain Street 18 months ago, Roth has thrown himself back into his oil paintings with renewed passion.


     Incorporating lessons he learned abroad, Roth found new inspiration painting Cape Cod and the rugged coasts of New Hampshire and Maine.


     "The new work started out very traditionally and then started to loosen up. I think it reveals a grasp of form and a spontaneous use of light and color," he said. "Since I started painting again, I think there's a new maturity, a new truth."