Interview with Darrell Roberts: My Own Language

Darrell Roberts and I are going to Artropolis at the Merchandise Mart on Friday. Actually, I’m meeting him there at Art Chicago, showcasing over 100 dealers in international contemporary art. He’s showing with Thomas McCormick Gallery. I wrote my first published article on Darrell for New City Chicago Magazine last year, and I had a chance to do a follow-up interview in January about his Luscious show at Hyde Park Art Center.

Darrell's Favorite Painting

Darrell’s Favorite Painting

Interview with Darrell Roberts, Luscious Show, Hyde Park Art Center
For the past four years, Darrell Roberts has been painting Chicago's cityscapes and gardens, depicting the dynamic skyline and capturing the essence of the city's landmarks and parks, in his vibrant abstract creations on canvas. Luscious at the Hyde Park Art Center is a retrospective of Roberts' interpretation of the ever changing physical landscape of the city as well as an examination of an artist's unique expression of his inner vision.

As we enter Gallery 4, located in the southeast corner of the art center, we are surrounded by over one hundred oil paintings on canvases, ranging in size from 3”x5” to 30”x40”, hung in a nearly symmetrical grid-like layout, and generally arranged by the different seasons of the year. We are immediately drawn to The City Park and Construction Site Series, on the east wall of the gallery. The series, arranged in a grid of eighteen paintings across by four paintings down, a total of seventy two canvases, is the culmination of the artist's vision, giving artistic form to his inner voice and experience. The colors, textures, forms, and compositions of the paintings rise up like separate voices, each telling a different story, and yet side by side, they harmonize together lyrically as members of a choir.

East Wall, Hyde Park Arts Center, Gallery 4, Photo Tom Van Eynde
Photo Tom Van Eynde

As the sunshine pours into the room from the southern windows, some of the paintings appear to dance, the colors vibrating along the shaft of muted light. Inspired by Hans Hoffmann (1880-1996), the German-born American abstract expressionist painter, Roberts has used Hoffmann's “push/pull” theory (using techniques to make a two-dimensional object on a page look three-dimensional) as a basis for his own style of capturing the essence of his observations. “I refer to my style as abstract intuition rather than expressionism,” Roberts explains. “I use push/pull as a basis for the use of colors and where there needs to be tension and movement through the painting. I would refer to my style as colorful relief painting, like a two-dimensional relief because there's some texture with the color (pumice added to paints). Some things advance forward, even literally coming off the canvas a little bit from the thickness of the paint. Painting on the sides of the canvas also changes the size of the grid. To me, my style is more than push/pull because the painting is popping out and pushing the limits of the canvas. They are almost sculptural in a way. If I were to push them any more, I would have to go three dimensional.”

The show continues in a smaller separate room to the north of the gallery. Here we find three original monoprints, depicting the construction theme but with fragmentary shadowy figures superimposed on the buildings, look like uneven striations on a batik fabric. The monoprints, which are one-time prints from a printing press, were done with Tom Lucas of Hummingbird Press. “Each one of these was done with two colors,” explains Roberts. “I ran them each through the press twice. The first one was done with a dark blue and light blue. The second was yellow and orange. And the last one was the lime green and dark blue, and I get the darker green from the blue. We had a large sheet of plexiglass and Tom would ink it, and I would take pieces of cardboard scraps that were cut in different widths and scrape away the ink in different areas. I also laid down cheesecloth on different areas to get different textures, and used turpentine to thin the ink with a brush to get different marks. The monoprints are something I'm going to continue working on along with my paintings.

Monoprints, Luscious Show, Hyde Park Art Center, Gallery 4, Photo Tom Van Eynde
Photo Tom Van Eynde

What is the intent of the show? I think the intent is to inspire people, to have them come in and look at the show and feel really happy and also wanting to create something of their own

Where is the show in terms of your evolutionary development as an artist? I think this is probably my most developed work. It seems to be my own language using the brush strokes and textures. The hues are lighter. There are changes in the intensity of the color, and I'm using more of my own colors that I've mixed and made up

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944, Russian painter and art theorist) said that any artwork is successful if it comes from deep within the artist and if the artist's original impulse is evoked in the viewer through the artwork. Do you believe this is true? What is your definition of a successful piece? A successful piece has to have visual stimulation. You have to be moved by looking at it by itself without a lot of text or explanation. It has to speak for itself. There's something that you feel while creating the piece. There is a sense of a greater self. A lot of people I've never met say they've seen my work, and they really respond to the color and texture. They have this optical sensation. They want to touch it. And they get excited. They want to know how it was done, and I think on viewing the work, they do feel the joy I felt when I was making it.

Hoffmann says “It is not the form that dictates the color, but the color that brings out the form.” How would you say you use color in your paintings? Color is the dominant element in my work. I'm attracted to color in everything and it's the relationship of colors next to each other — warm and cool colors or working with a monochromatic palette with slightly changing tint or shadow in it. I don't think the form is in the painting. I think the form is what you paint on, and the structure gives the painting the form.

Your paintings sometimes appear to be dreamlike, lyrical, and poetic. Do you try to capture your dreams in your paintings? No, I don't think so. But creating is like that moment just before you're asleep or awake — that's what it's like when you're painting. You're in your own world. There's an energy that flows, and there is a sense that you could do anything. But also, it's letting your self be yourself. This is my true identity. There's no censorship. I'm not trying to copy someone. It's like my own language that I've created.

For more of Darrell Robert’s artwork, click here ArtStyle Blog Gallery.

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