Mixing Creativity and Practicality

Ken Roth

Ken Roth

As a child, Ken Roth ’89 retreated to his room to draw. But in high school his passions centered on sports and music. Westmont recruited him to play soccer, and he decided to major in economics and business. “I wanted something that gave me the possibility of graduate school and employment,” he says. “I paid more attention to other people’s voices than my own sense of what I wanted.” His favorite classes were literature and music; he took almost enough units to minor in English. “I came out of college with a long reading list,” he says. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I wanted to read: a lot of classics and Russian authors.” The closest he came to art at Westmont was taking an introductory art course and visiting art museums during the International Business Institute. After graduating, he played semi-professional soccer and worked for a defense contractor, where he did some computer graphics work. His next job involved marketing for an art publisher. He didn’t enjoy the work, but he took advantage of trips to cities like New York and Chicago to visit more art museums. He began to think about pursuing a master of fine arts degree — and he decided to start making art again.

Setting up an easel in the living room of the San Diego home he shared with his wife, Dawnelle Elliot Roth ’90, Ken began painting in oil. He decided his best bet was teaching art, so he completed a teaching credential at National University and taught at a parochial high school. In 1993, the Roths move to Bend, Ore., and Ken spent seven years teaching at a local high school. He kept painting, exhibited in galleries and finally had to decide whether he wanted to be an artist or a teacher. Eventually, he left the school.

Making a living as an artist wasn’t easy at first. “After some hard years, I realized what it took to be successful,” he says. “I work locally with people doing development projects and get commissions for public space as well as from private individuals. I put much less emphasis on galleries.” Dawnelle helps him with the business, and he’s able to spend time with their two children. He also plays the drums at church and competes with an indoor soccer team.

“I think more deeply now about what art means in my life,” Ken says. “Initially, I did a lot of landscape and plein air painting, going through years of learning technique. I’m changing what I paint now, and I’m putting more thought into how my art is involved in my faith. Ultimately that means my work reflects more about my family and life and is more figurative. Art is a kind of sacred thing you do; there is something of the divine in the process of making that connects you with your creator.”

While he paints almost completely in oil, Ken also does some work on paper, creating one-of-a-kind prints such as monotypes and etchings (see www.kenrothstudio.com). Commissions pose a creative challenge for him as he has to set aside what he wants to do. “That practical side of life keeps intruding,” he says. “There is always tension between creativity and practicality.”

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