Roa’s animals have a dueling effect on the viewer. Beautifully rendered with meticulous attention to detail, they invite close observation of every hair, eyelash, and paw. Yet, there is something unsettling about these creatures. Usually painted in black and white and on large scale, they exhibit a haunting stillness that brings to mind taxidermy or scientific specimens. These mysterious animals exist in a place where the natural world and surrealistic realm collide.
Roa grew up in Ghent, Belgium during the 80s when American hip-hop and skate culture was being introduced. He became interested in graffiti and started writing a bit here and there. Soon, the thrill of spraying his name around the city started to wane. Then one day, Roa decided to paint an animal because he loved to draw them as a kid. Sparks flew once again, and animals have been his signature motif ever since.
Subjects aren’t chosen at random. Rather, Roa’s animals are site-specific, and live in the region in which he is painting. Visit Brooklyn and you’ll see building-high murals depicting giant rats and squirrels. He created numerous marsupials in Australia. Giraffes, zebras, and elephants were the focus of a community project in Gambia.
For his first solo show “Metazoa” at Jonathan Levine Gallery, the artist transferred his subjects to the surfaces of salvaged cabinets. Much of the featured wildlife is local to New York state – fox, turtle, owl, rabbit, and deer. Cabinet doors open up to expose skeletal and muscular structures. Metazoa is the zoological term used to describe subdivisions of the animal kingdom, and the animals in this exhibition hold symbolic meaning.
ROA views the beaver, the state animal of New York, as a metaphor for the idea that nature has the ability to reclaim itself. The recovery of the beaver in New York City after it was previously thought extinct is exemplary of how humans and animals affect each other and reflects the artist’s interest in how animals evolve within urban landscapes.Wherever man settles, the desire to explore beyond the borders of survival leads to the extinction of species. This extermination due to mankind’s impact not only disrupts the natural balance but also leads to drastic cosmic changes, which ROA aims to convey by depicting the life, transience and carrion of animals.
It is no secret that humans’ relationship with the natural world is one of constant struggle The imbalance is evident and things can’t continue on this way. Entire ecosystems have been destroyed by humans’ negligence and apt for convenience. The end of one species can have a profound effect on the flora and fauna in the surrounding environment and beyond. This also happens in cities as they grow, change, and develop. Thus, Roa’s proposal to consider how this problem is unfolding within today’s urban landscape is especially timely as science discovers more about the interconnectedness of ecosystems at the global level.
Roa made all the works in “Metazoa” during a studio residency at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. Finishing his stay in the NYC area on a very large note, the artist painted a gigantic mural on the Ice House located at the entrance of the Holland Tunnel.