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David Lee Roth: His “Art” and Soul

david lee roth

At this point, I think we need not explain who David Lee Roth is: the a-little-bit-famous band he fronted, the solo career, the Las Vegas performer, the showman. While the Van Halen brothers mainly kept to themselves when not performing or touring, David Lee Roth is drawn to the heat and shine of the spotlight. And ever since Leonardo Da Vinci tried his hand at things other than science and inventing, we’ve come to expect talented people to diversify. While I’m not drawing an exact comparison between the two, creativity craves creativity. Did you know that in 2004, while living in New York City, David Lee Roth became a certified emergency medical technician and went on several calls? And before the pandemic, he had a successful engagement as a solo act in support of Kiss’ tour.

These days, David Lee Roth prefers to be called “David L Roth,” or in a show of locution economics, “El Roth.” His early interest in art led him to casually sketch and doodle while delivering rock and roll across the world. But since that era, he’s taken the effort more seriously, as if David L has taken anything very seriously.

In this case, he threw himself into the Japanese art of Sumi-e, which is the classic practice of ink painting. He spent a couple of years in Tokyo learning the style, which included repeatedly inking a subject, sometimes for as much as half a year. This included learning how to paint with a horsehair paintbrush and grinding your paint using the original (ancient) techniques.

Now at sixty-six years old and in isolation since Covid, he’s been churning out artwork that’s a commentary on life, politics, and himself. One of the commonly occurring characterizations is called “Soggy Bottom” and it’s often comprised of frogs and other bog creatures that provide sometimes pointed commentary. He attributes being drawn to frogs because of Mark Twain and that famous amphibian from Calaveras County. But his other reason for this anthropomorphic angle is clever; using cute caricatures sometimes takes the edge off otherwise controversial commentary.

Other pieces of art are interesting but subject to interpretation. Take his depiction of Donald Duck, with a devilish expression and the caption “Disney to Covid; Time to Man Up. Ain’t No Mouse Here!”

Or it’s obvious that he hasn’t lost his comic ways in the “We Salute,” where one piece celebrates hotels that opened their doors to the homeless during the pandemic. The caption reads “What does ‘La Quinta mean? It’s Spanish for ‘Behind Denny’s.” And periodically he draws “headlines” on a fictional newspaper called “The Daily Catastrophe” when he wants to provide third-person commentary with an apparent “official” vibe. He used that platform by lightly chastising former Van Halen frontman Sammy Hagar for his comments about Roth not being easy to work with and Hagar suggesting that he would tour despite the dangers of the pandemic.

Personally, he considers this work therapy, which allows him to surface his frustrations or point out matters that make him inwardly bristle. He doesn’t currently have an interest in making his hobby-ish efforts a core source of income but is flattered that people are taking an interest.

Need more examples of the eclectic El Roth?

Head to his Twitter account (@DavidLeeRoth) or head to https://davidleeroth.com and experience a narrated view into his imagination. The site is called “The Roth Project” and suggests that you “Put on your headphones. Open your mind.” And if you’re thinking “that’s a lot of output!”, when you’re as talented as David L Roth, even during lockdown the talent finds a way out.

-Will Wills

Photo: David Lee Roth (Wikimedia Commons)

 

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Will Wills — a native-born Italian, raised in the US — does a killer impersonation of Mario (“a-letsa-go!”). Generally, you’ll find him frenetically bouncing between software development at a large US firm, leading a local dance/pop band, playing COD and watching MST3K. Yes, he’s sleep deprived, but you can follow his resulting incoherence at @WillrWills or his band at @WillsAndTheWays or his blog, "A Day in a Monkey's Life," if you’re suffering from insomnia, too.

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