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Glenwood painter Andrew Roberts-Gray, like most people, is full of contradictions. Unlike many, he strives to embrace them – in his life and in his art.
Instead of bringing disparate elements into harmony in his most recent series of paintings, Roberts-Gray decided to let an unlikely amalgam of techniques, materials and themes coexist to engage and surprise the viewer, including himself.
The resulting exhibit, titled “Ink Paintings,” which is on display at the CMC ArtShare Gallery Jan. 8 through Feb. 27, embodies a new direction for the artist. “Your practice needs experimentation,” he said. “It’s not easy to let go of all the education and history packed in our heads. We have to find ways to clear that out and to clear out what people expect of you, to let the process have its own drive.”
The process that Roberts-Gray has employed in his most recent works is motivated by his compelling desire to relinquish a degree of artistic control and give his paintings more freedom. “Part of the enjoyment is that some of these pieces came out in ways that I absolutely don’t understand,” he said.
Background in printmaking sparked painter’s process-driven vision
Roberts-Gray has been a working artist for more than 30 years and, during that time, has garnered his share of success. His work has been exhibited in galleries from New York to California. He’s had solo shows and won exhibition awards. But, for him, art is always about the process.
His early years as a printmaker helped him to develop an appreciation for the systematic development of a piece of work, while his landscape, graphic and abstract design work refined his skill set and boosted his willingness to take risks. He also credits Anderson Ranch for giving him the creative space to develop his techniques and vision.
About eight years ago, he began abstracting patterns from circuit boards, which he would weave into and through landscapes in an integrated way. “I liked the idea of throwing the two visual ideas together and forcing them to coexist,” he explained.
The next evolution was work that used the landscape like a field. After completing a landscape, he would scrub off certain areas and superimpose graphic designs and shapes against the shadowy backdrop. “They had a technological feel, but also an organic quality,” he said.
About a year ago, Roberts-Gray hit on a method that drew on the structure and systems of printmaking but allowed for a spontaneous experience. “The paintings that wove the patterns into the landscapes were full of intention and design,” he said. “The conception was done before I began painting. What was missing was something happening right before your eyes, something you could not predict.”
Structured approach leads to freedom on canvas
The goal for the series of ink paintings he set out to create was to let the work drive its own expression. “I wanted a feeling of improvisation in my work,” he said.
The painter describes the approach he used for the series as a kind of meticulous freestyle. Each painting was created in a series of five layers, each one integral to the final composition. “Within each layer, there’s creativity,” he said. “But there’s a process to the letting go.”
The process begins with stretching the canvas and taping off areas to leave raw, often the edges. Next, he primes and surfaces the window that remains, which becomes the playing field for the rest of the layers. Then, working from photos he’s taken, he paints a landscape of lines and washes using India ink. Next, he masks off an area of the landscape and spray paints over it.
“The way I resolve the paintings,” he said, “is to choose a color that works with the black of the India ink, the landscape color, the spray paint color, and make one final shape that lays over everything, using a knifed-on, thick layer of oil paint.”
Once the five layers are complete, the final step is removing the last vestiges of tape and watching the final composition emerge. “Some of the canvas I’ll keep covered until the very end,” he said. “It has this quality of putting me in a position where I’m not totally in control.
“I felt like my work lacked something before,” said Roberts-Gray, “and I didn’t know what it was. For me, it took 30 years to get to a position where I had the confidence – and where I got frustrated and angry enough – to do something different, to make a painting that stood on its own, that had its own intelligence, its own soul.”
The exhibit will be on display Jan. 8 through Feb. 27 at the CMC ArtShare Gallery at 802 Grand Ave. in Glenwood Springs. An opening reception is set for Friday, Jan. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. The reception is free and open to the public.
The CMC ArtShare Gallery is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 947-8367 or visit cmcartshare.com.