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Ask painter David Wells Roth about his influences, and he cites two of the greats: Paul Cézanne and Edward Hopper. “I understood Hopper because I spent a lot of time in New York City with my folks growing up,” says Roth (CFA’05), whose parents were from the Bronx. “I understood his vision of New York.”
When it comes to Roth’s nighttime urban scenes, like Passing Glance, it’s apparent the artist is also influenced by a point in time: the dawn of the Space Age, a touchstone for someone born in 1957. “You’ve got little spots of light here and there,” he says. “If you squint your eyes, it’s like you’re looking into space.”
Roth arrived at the College of Fine Arts in 1975 (the late David Aronson, a CFA professor emeritus of art, was a mentor); for personal reasons, he left BU in 1979 and moved to New York City. He spent his time painting outdoors, and selling his work off the easel. From 1982 to 1997, he lived in France, painting landscapes and city scenes, and exhibiting his art there and in the United States. Back in America, he began working on a new series of cityscapes, and completed a BFA at BU. About that time he was commissioned to paint the portraits of 31 judges, past and present, of the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. Roth began the work in 2007 and has so far painted 34 judges. The portraits hang in the central atrium of the main courthouse in San Juan.
Roth says his goal was to paint the jurists as though from life. “You can see styles subtly changing over time,” he says. “The early ones are very formal, with a very 19th-, early 20th-century look, and as you get further on, they get less formal.”
As for the court’s now-retired chief judge, José A. Fusté, who commissioned the portraits, “I wanted to give him the most classical pose. I wanted to give him Rembrandt’s world. And I put his motorcycle and sports car collection behind him. He loved it.”