From Staff Reports
Published February 10, 2008
STAPLES — The painting is titled “Three Sisters.”
It’s a portrait of trees that John A. Roof conjured out of the vast library of details that are stored in his memory.
The trees stand in unison, defiantly against a cloudless sky, rooted in a chasm of darkly hued earth that flows into — or out of — an underworld. That black earth is starkly contrasted with what appears to be molten lava, and then segues into an image of a field of wheat, or straw, or roots that lie underneath a thin veneer of green space.
“One of them, with the red hair, is my wife, Betsy, in the middle,” Roof explains.
Roof was a Boy Scout. He was a cowboy — even competed in rodeos.
He graduated with a BFA in studio painting from Texas Tech University in 1973. His wife also holds an art degree from the same school.
They raised three children, and after they were grown the Roofs bought the old Staples General Store and moved to Guadalupe County.
Betsy is an artist in her own right, whether she cooks tasty hamburgers for hungry customers or weaves new straw seats onto antique chairs, among other things.
John paints. He also restores old furniture. And he shoots photos in the fields of the alluvial valley where Staples exists on the west bank of the San Marcos River.
His late mother, Bonnie Bible Roof, used to always tell him to “wake up,” whenever he tended to do a close reading of nature.
“Nature is an organized confusion that comes together with color,” Roof says in a “statement” on his web site.
“Staples is a very small forgotten village on the San Marcos River. There are unspoiled fields where wheat, corn and maize are grown, and live oaks and pecan trees have flourished since long before the arrival of the white man,” Roof wrote on a Web page.
“To be able to walk alone in these fields, to watch the approaching storms, to hear the movement of the river, and to feel the wind is nothing less than perfection ... I have found my garden.”
According to himself, John A. Roof was born in Coshocton, Ohio on Jan. 14, 1949.
He noticed early in life that he seemed to be outside a circle, looking inward and spending the majority of his time just observing things to the point that his parents thought he had fallen asleep with his eyes open.
“I remember once when I was on a Boy Scout camp out in the winter and it snowed heavily. I sat by the fire all night listening to the snow hitting the ground and watching it glimmer in the firelight as it fell from the sky.” Roof relates to his Web site visitors.
“When daylight came I walked off into the woods and marveled at what lay before me,” he wrote.
Apparently, artistic ability runs in the family.
His grandfather could draw anyone’s face. His mother was an artist.
Roof has a painting by his son hanging in a hallway. It’s a self portrait of himself after he soloed in an airplane.
And Roof’s grandson, Jack, was taught to paint before he could walk.
“My grandson is two years old and goes to daycare. One day he painted a page, then he painted the wall. He painted the desk and then he painted the palms of other kids’ hands. His father told the teacher that he comes by his art honestly,” Roof recalled.
Roof attended junior college in Port Huron, Mich., as a business major for one semester.
“I took an art course to get my grades up, and I never looked back,” he said.
Summers were spent at the Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N. M., a 215-square-mile mountain wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo stretch of the Rockies.
He walked the earth and soaked up the splendor of the trees, the sky and the mountains — even climbed a 12,000-foot peak many times to watch the sunrise.
“The colors seen cannot be painted,” Roof discovered.
After graduation, marriage and a career as a retail store manager at Texas Art Supply in Houston, painting took second fiddle to raising family, so Roof resorted to drawing and building furniture.
“We raised three children, and time for art got less and less, but always there was this thing of looking and watching. I was a voyeur of the world around me,” Roof explains in his biographical sketch.
Today, the walls of the home John Roof shares with his wife Besty are lined with the distinctive style of paintings that he calls the “Black Earth Series,” which invariably are begun with a canvas that is painted black.
There are also other paintings and photographs by other artists that he has traded with.
Trees are the focal points in many of the works in the series.
“I try to paint a portrait of the tree, which is what I feel at the time,” Roof said.
“The dirt out here is black. The dirt in Staples is black gumbo. There is upper earth and lower earth. You always have to have support, so I supported the underworld,” Roof said.
That support appears in the form of a single architectural column that serves as a sort of artist’s signature near the bottom of his paintings, noticeable after careful observation of the almost disturbing images of nature on canvas.
However, Roof refrains from explaining his art to admirers of his work.
“I let the viewers of my paintings develop their own interpretations,” he said.
“I’m not a religious person. I’m a spiritual person. I see a lot that mankind is overlooking, including life itself,” Roof explained.
Observers of his art work say that John Roof’s artistic style is distinctly "Roofian."
“My style is my style, and to me that’s the greatest thing,” Roof said. “I wanted to paint works that would sell for $1,000, so I could say ‘see, mom?’
“My goal was always to be in a one-man show, then to be in a national show, and my main goal is to have my grandchildren view my art in a museum of fine art, that gives you immortality on earth,” Roof said. “I want to live forever, and I want to paint forever.”