It’s quite possible that Sam Roloff, in part, owes his artistic side to his being born with Diastrophic Dwarfism. The connection comes from having spent so much time in Shriner’s Hospital as a child following surgeries to deal with his condition. There were art supplies for the children to play with during their recoveries and that’s where Roloff’s artistry first came out.
He was serious enough about it to go to the San Francisco Art Institute following high school, where he got a BFA in printmaking. But he began to feel bogged down by “the process” of printing and started to experiment with oil painting.
“I’m really self-taught when it comes to oil painting,” says Roloff. “I took classes in sculpture, printmaking, drawing, but not oil painting.”
In the early ‘90s, Roloff’s passion for painting took him all the way to Prague in the Czech Republic where he opened a gallery in downtown Prague and “painted like mad.” He produced a huge body of work, including a series titled “Women of Prague.”
Roloff’s art went on the back burner once he got married and had children. He started doing web design to make a living with a company he called “Studio Ridge.”
The canvas called him back about five or six years ago and now he spends about six hours a day in the studio, often until 2 or 3 am. When asked to describe his style, Roloff says some might say he has a lot of styles, but he prefers to think of it as different “bodies of work.” That’s why you’ll see landscapes as well as portraits and collage pieces.
“I know you’re not supposed to do that,” says Roloff. “You’re supposed to have one style. But I don’t want to do that. I’ve got to be interested in it.”
And even if one of Roloff’s paintings looks abstract, there might be several other paintings underneath that include figurative images. He even documented one painting all along the way as it developed. The images that will never be seen could all stand on their own as easily as the finished painting, but Roloff just likes working that way — layering and “mixing things up.”
Although Roloff is small, his work can be very big. He often paints on canvases that are three by four feet.
“Some walls just scream for it. If I had my way, I’d do only big,” he laughs.
Right now, Roloff isn’t gallery represented, which means he has to spend a lot of time marketing himself to locations that will let him hang art. He currently has work up at the Patton Valley Vineyard in Gaston, Oregon, and in August his “Women of Portland” series will be up at The Space in the Pearl District (1030 NW 12th).
No matter the style he explores, one thing is certain — Roloff will continue to follow his passion to see where it leads him.