For me everything is about art all the time. In the 1950’s, art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the term action painting. It’s a phrase that I keep coming back to. My practice is as much about the act as the action. The finished painting is a physical manifestation, or residue, of the action. Rosenberg's definition of art as an act rather than an object, as a process rather than a product defines my studio practice well. Applying paint, scrapping it away, layering, and accumulation. Although my paintings are seemingly abstract they are rooted in my everyday experience.
The ever-changing landscape and structures of the metropolis inspire my work. Over the years I have documented Chicago; the lake, the gardens, the skyline, its people and construction sites. All these elements and textures influence my work. My interest is in sensory overload and stimulation. I grew up in a small rural farm in Iowa. I remember going for long walks through the fields and woods, contemplating what is out there. Today I live and make art in Chicago. I still go for long walks, through an ever-changing environment, which influences my art making. I contemplate the same questions I did in my childhood, and wonder why and how a lot. I believe some of us, artists, are born with a creative energy and soul to make art. I am bombarded with visual stimuli in Chicago, and love it; I believe more is much better. The pace of people, traffic and hectic life make it easier for me to notice the subtle changes of textures, colors, forms and light as I move through the city. These changes quickly catch my eye and give me a moment to rest. Many times I spend much of the course of a year, documenting construction sites and am interested in what was and will be.
My painting process is not dissimilar to the continual push and pull on the growing metropolis; as crews raze a structure so others are building new projects. In the way a mark is applied, a color is laid down and then scrapped up and moved away, only to let another layer build-up the painting.
Color for me is movement; movement through the city is color. A big influence on my practice is Hans Hoffmann whose push-pull theory owed much to his surroundings. The tension of space, form, line and color all ring true in my process of painting.
The elements of nature give many structures in Chicago a nice patina. Flakes of paint chip off buildings, leaving behind a history of paint strata on the structure. Rust becomes more dominant on boxcars as they haul commodities from Chicago to the west and back. The city gardens are full of intense colors and textures in the summer. My paintings have much to do with these observations and a keen sense of sight.
In my workspace, I cover the walls with the images I document, colored papers I have collected with different patterns and textures to bright toys filling my studio. There is so much influence in my space the eye can hardly rest; it is intense energy and colorful happiness. I work on a series at a time, as many as fifteen paintings. Sometimes laying down the background, other times scrapping away and covering it up. Each time adding more texture
through the thick layers of paint. Over the course of months, my abstract paintings are razed and built-up. My canvases are opaque and full of color, texture and visual stimulation. Steeped in the tradition of oil painting, my paintings are best seen in multiples to get a sense of the sensory overload and rapid eye movement on a subject with the subtle changes. My paintings stimulate the viewer's senses, which can give off a sensory overload. My life is art and molded around life.
Darrell Roberts grew up in rural Iowa, attended the University of Northern Iowa and received a BA in Art History. Moved to Chicago, attended The School of The Art Institute of Chicago, and received a BFA and MFA in Fine Art. Darrell continues to support himself by teaching painting and drawing, so he enjoys life, has fun and does not feel as if he works, and makes his art.
New City Chicago Interview: Darrell Roberts by Amy Rudberg. Darrell Roberts is preparing for his one-man show, "Luscious," coming to the Hyde Park Art Center early next year. In his work space, he has photos of downtown construction sites and gardens, small canvases stacked like pancakes, large tubes of oil paints, neon-colored stuffed toys, pipe cleaners forming a 3-D structure, colored paper, patterned ribbon, a seed pod and a piece of cement with pieces of steel rods. He turns the radio on and takes a sip of his Diet Coke, and then he methodically starts to squeeze out large dollops of paint on a paper palette. A slight odor of Turpenoid fills the air as he places his brushes, palette and putty knives, and mediums on the work surface.
He has already put on a thin layer of wash on four 12" x 12" canvases and four 10" x 10" canvases, prepping them ahead of time so that they are ready for today's task. He picks up a cerulean-blue canvas, cradles it with his left hand like a musical instrument, and begins to paint pale-green lines vertically over the canvas. He puts the canvas down and then picks up another canvas with a purple and white wash and begins to add yellow dots thickly in a symmetric pattern. Using his brushes, putty knife and palette knife, he continues this process--adding colors, lines, values, textures and shapes on one canvas after another--until he has gone through all of the canvases. And then he starts all over again, in a seemingly never-ending cycle, building layer upon layer and sometimes roughly scraping off paint and rebuilding his layers. And when he's finally done, his group of paintings are singing, telling their story of how they were created, and how glad they are to be alive.
Why is the upcoming HPAC show called "Luscious"?
It has to do with intuition--thinking about color, bringing out a lot of textures, and evoking a desire to touch and even wanting to taste the images.
What influences your work?
I take a lot of photos of Chicago construction sites and gardens. When I had a studio on Michigan Avenue, I observed the construction of Millennium Park while working for my MFA at the Art Institute. It was like my own sandbox. I could see the entire complex being built from the ground up. It was an amazing experience. I also collect things and can't throw them away. In my studio, I had things grouped in piles--toys, things from nature, construction materials, consumer throwaways, and materials like paper. I used them for inspiration, but at the same time it felt comfortable to have them around. Now that I work at home I still collect things but on a smaller scale.
What does painting mean to you?
To me, painting is very spiritual, but not in a religious way. It's being able to express the nature of yourself, explaining your existence here, your true purpose in life. As I'm painting, there's a flow of being in the present. When I'm painting, I'm just uncovering it. I can't visualize it but I'm feeling it--a quietness, like a good sound sleep.
Your work seems reminiscent of the Constructivist movement in Russia in the early 1900s, when artists tried to encompass cognition, materialism and spirituality in their art. How would you describe your style of painting?
They were avant-garde artists. I'm more of an abstractionist. I did figurative work before deciding on abstract painting. Abstractions are representations of an organic form. You still have to pay attention to push-pull, balance, color harmony and placement, among other things. When I'm painting, I'm constructing something, trying to find a layout. I suppose I'm trying to "peel away" the layers to find the innate design. When I don't like something or if I want to show different layerings from above and underneath, I scrape away the paint. Each painting has its own composition. I see it as being organic from the layout of the layers and textures, and I'm not going for geometric shapes; even though there are lines, they are loose and change from thick to thin. I usually paint six to eight layers on average to get to the final stage. I use pumice, which is ground-up lava, added to my paints for texture and it also helps the drying process. I want people to become familiar with my own unique mark and to recognize the paint application and brush strokes I use to construct, deconstruct and layer my paintings. copyright Amy Rudberg.
Hyde Park Art Center 5020 S. Cornell Avenue, Chicago
Darrell Roberts, abstracts the rigid forms of urban architecture in a new selection of works titled Luscious,on view from January 21 to March 27, 2007. Luscious uses the vibrant and gestural language of abstract painting to document an ever-changing cityscape. Thick strokes of color work as layers that Roberts either reveals or conceals, depicting new constructions being built over the old foundations of Roberts’s home city, Chicago.
The extreme textures, fluid forms and bold colors appeal to more than just the eye. The paintings, inspired by Roberts’s photographs of city parks, gardens and undeveloped building sites, appeal to a wide range of the senses as the viewer examines the paint in its multilayered state. By abstracting Chicago’s cityscape, Roberts captures the “luscious” qualities of a pulsing city that is constantly reinventing itself.
Darrell Roberts received his BFA and MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and is a returning faculty member at the Hyde Park Art Center. He has exhibited extensively in the Chicago area and has been featured in the local media.