Mike Roche: Circus & Play

January 8 – February 5, 2022

Mike and his daughter Magnolia 

Lucy, Magnolia and Mike

Speed of Sound

Mill Town Circus

Press Release

Lucy Lacoste Gallery announces with pleasure its upcoming exhibition:  Mike Roche: Circus & Play, January 8 - 31, 2022, in which the artist explores the heyday of the traveling Circus (1920’s- 1930’s) intertwined with the introduction and spread of Jazz through his quixotically whimsical wood-fired sculpture.   

This series was inspired by the winding down of the Barnum and Bailey Circus and its farewell tour, during which the artist began to explore the history of the Circus and its role in cultural development. As Roche states, there was a time when the Circus was ‘one of the only avenues to challenge ideas and expand what was possible’.

In this exhibition, Jazz, introduced in the early days by the traveling circus, is a touchstone from which many of the show’s sculptures stem.  Through Roche’s sculpture, Jazz, becomes a critical element of discussion in terms of the positive, creative impact it had on society as well as darker ramifications relating to the treatment of the musicians. 

In Jazz, as in the circus, Roche admires ‘the serious pursuit of play and spontaneity and the courage it takes to bring seemingly different elements together to form beauty and harmony’ which he reflects in his sculpture.

It is unusual to see sculpture with so much narrative content fired with wood. When asked about this, Roche said that in wood-fire the surface is built up over time from fallen ash that melts to form the glaze. It is not a one-day process.  The depth and history of his works are reflected in the depth and variation of the wood-fired surfaces.

The sculpture in this series is full of stories.  Record Keeper is about how art/music and information could travel during the turn of the century when records came to record sound.  Before that the only way to be exposed to new music was by a traveling show.  The history of American music would no longer be written down but rather preserved through early recordings. This piece also includes a cage represented by brass bars. The artist found it important to note that early African American musicians were fearful of recording their music knowing that it would most likely be stolen or replayed by white musicians for more profit.

Box Car represents the traveling show that is the Circus. Although fascinating and beautiful, this piece intends on highlighting the performers who were held back and taken advantage of for their talents. Artists and musicians were often seen as a spectacle, rather than revered for their creativity.

Social Circus is representative of a large circus tent that houses many people and a variety of spectacles. Roche is fascinated with the idea of the structure containing many minds, talents, and perspectives under one roof in a chaotic and beautiful mixture. The arrow on top signifies the urge to be heard and the need to gather people to an attraction. It is one of three pieces relating to architecture.  These pagoda-like forms, highlighted by the ash of wood-fire, speak volumes about what happens inside spaces.

In addition to the effects of the Circus on culture, as well as its importance for the introduction of jazz, and the treatment of musicians of color, the work in this series leads to questions like “What is the circus today?” and how media and internet may have taken on the role as a modern-day circus.

Mike Roche is a ceramics artist from Dorchester, Massachusetts. He studied oil painting with the accomplished landscape artist Peter Roux, while taking classes in high school in advertising, art, and design.  Roche enrolled in Massachusetts College of Art and Design with the intention of continuing his painting studies. He took his first course in ceramic hand-building during his freshman year and fell deeply in love with the medium's endless possibilities.

During his last year at Mass Art, from which he graduated with the highest honors, Roche had the good fortune to meet the world-renowned ceramic artist Jun Kaneko, who after seeing Roche’s thesis show, invited him to work as his assistant in his Omaha Nebraska studio. Over the next four years, Roche worked closely with Kaneko taking part in every operation necessary to run the expansive and prolific studio from fabricating ceramic sculptures to designing his largest kiln to date.

Roche received his MFA from the University of Delaware In 2012. During his time in Delaware, Roche continued to explore the scale of his sculptures and also evolved the complexity of his surface treatments on the forms. After obtaining his graduate degree, Roche moved back to Massachusetts to reconnect with his roots and become involved with the local clay community that had so greatly influenced and inspired his current journey as a contemporary ceramic artist.

“It is a pleasure to represent Mike Roche as he advances as a ceramic artist.  When we first met, he had just become the manager of the ceramic studio at the Umbrella Arts Center in Concord MA. I sensed immediately that he would bring positive changes to the Clay Department there. I was impressed that he had worked for Jun Kaneko, thus understanding ceramics in the broader sense.  I found out he did wood-fire and made functional pottery. It was only later that I realized he was also a serious sculptor making work of such depth.” Lucy Lacoste

Circus & Play Show Statement by Mike Roche

As the Barnum and Bailey circus was winding down and beginning its farewell tour, I became invested in exploring this new body of work entitled Circus & Play.  Although its impacts had diminished in the later years, for over a century the circus was a thriving force that would travel the world and test one's sense of reality. They brought the new, the groundbreaking, the unusual and the magnificent to all reaches of culture and society. Before television and the internet, the circus was one of the only mechanisms Americans had to challenge ideas and expand what was known to be possible. I was posed with a question of “What is the circus today?” Is there a field or entity that has filled the void or are we experiencing a constant circus through media, internet, and social networking?  If this is our circus, is anybody curating or are we looking through a lens without filters?

As the series progressed and the research went deeper the history of the circus became more and more critical. It became important to not only acknowledge the positive impacts but also recognize the darker ramifications that these systems and organizations can produce. In the early days, Jazz was one of the greatest forms of expression that was part of the circus. Music from African American communities spread throughout the country with these traveling shows and forced many to recognize the undeniable creativity and brilliance. Although the musicians were almost never given the respect they deserved and were often treated very poorly, their work changed our world as we know it and became one of the cornerstones of American Art and Culture.

In this series Jazz became a critical element of discussion. I looked at the soulful complexity that was developed within the music and admired the confidence and boldness of improvisation. I admired the serious pursuit of play and spontaneity and the courage it takes to bring seemingly different elements together to form beauty and harmony.

Circus & Play explores both the challenges and successes of the avant-garde.  This series celebrates the brilliance and splendor of artists and musicians who have paved the road before us while also realizing the constraints and impediments that got in their way.


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