Painter Dani Roach has worked in libraries for as long as she’s been making art. It’s fitting, then, that her latest exhibition, opening on Saturday at Groveland Gallery, is titled “Selected Poems and Short Stories.”
Roach’s work captures simple yet profound Zen-like moments: sun on the empty seat of a boat, shadows on a highway, a pair of tourists peering over a railing. Her realistic paintings involve bold colors, clean lines, and a sense that the viewer only has a small glimpse of a larger scene.
“I’m used to using very literal imagery,” Roach says. “I’m not making the stories up, but I am refining them. I’m leaving out details, I’m adding things.”
Her appreciation of poetry really came alive when she did residencies that included both writers and visual artists. She would work in her studio during the day; in the evenings, she’d attend poetry readings or dine with the writers in residence. Those interactions stoked her interest in the literary arts.
“You’re trying to boil down some essence of something,” Roach says when comparing literature to paintings. “Poets are using words and, as a painter, I’m using visual language. I think they both hope to give the viewer or the reader something to reflect on or fall into or see in a new way.”
Works of literature and art face a similar hurdle: hooking an audience’s attention. Books and paintings can be quickly disregarded with a glance, but Roach hopes that her art inspires people to look again and linger.
While studying for her BFA at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, Roach’s professors encouraged students to pursue a trade, so she found work in the university library.
It was a choice that would determine her entire career path. She was employed for two decades at Macalester College’s DeWitt Wallace library, and has been at the University of St. Thomas’ library for about 14 years now. Throughout that time, she’s held different positions in the areas of technical services or management and seen the shift in libraries firsthand. While she used to manage a print journal collection, now she spends much of her time negotiating licenses for electric content like e-books and e-journals.
“An academic library was a great place to be; in the end, I stop wondering if I was supposed to be doing something else,” she says.
Her entrance into the art world seems to be equally unchallenged. After graduating from UWM, she sought out a vibrant arts scene; Minneapolis was close and with “a lot going on here.”
In 1980, she relocated and became a member of Women’s Art Resources of Minnesota (WARM). After a show at St. Kate’s, she was approached by Groveland Gallery, where she’s been represented since 1984.
While Roach has stayed put with that gallery and in Minnesota, she is an avid traveler, a passion evident in her paintings’ landscapes and scenes. In 2006, she celebrated her 50th birthday by traveling to New Zealand. An exhibition following that trip explored what it meant to be to be a visitor versus a resident. “When traveling, we see more,” she says. “As a resident, you stop seeing things. What’s fascinating when you’re a visitor is very mundane. A mailbox in New Zealand was exciting to look at. The vegetation, the landscape, all of those things are different when your role is a visitor versus a resident.”
Her latest collection of oil on panel and watercolor paintings pulls from trips to several countries. For her 60th birthday, she visited metropolitan and rural destinations across Scandinavia including Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. But she doesn’t aspire to make the locations in her paintings blatantly obvious to the viewer. “I don’t think the paintings are about their origins,” she says. “I don’t need the viewer to say, ‘Oh! That’s in Scandinavia!’ It’s just a fresh look or a different view.”
A trip to Ireland last year was also eye-opening. “I had not expected to be so enamored with it,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be rainy and just green.’ It was just luscious and beautiful.”
Roach is also attracted to water – for its surfaces, atmosphere, and reflections – as well as light and shadow, for the way they create shapes.
Her “Held” series incorporates all of these elements and features close-ups of nautical scenes. Some of the boats were moored or secured; others served as containers for objects. In titling the series, she looked for common threads and came up with containment, tethering, and, finally, a sense of “being held.” Each piece in the “Held” series is titled with its predominant color: red, yellow, teal.
Roach’s paintings, like an expert haiku, open a little window in the brain. They are familiar yet full of possibility, an entrance into interpretation.
IF YOU GO:
Dani Roach: “Selected Poems and Short Stories”
There will be an opening reception from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 21.
The exhibition is on view through May 26.