Observing birds flying through a blended sky of vibrant blue and orange in his newly finished oil painting “Them Birds Flew the Nest Long Ago,” Dick Roberts contemplates the theme behind his new exhibition of bird-inspired paintings: “Nevermore….”
“The show’s purpose is to instill a respect in birds,” Roberts says. “If you can instill a respect of an animal in an exhibit, then you can use it as an educational device that helps that animal—because as people learn about them, the chances of abuse are less. With knowledge comes respect.”
“Nevermore…” opened on May 26 with a lecture from WHQR commentator and ecologist Andy Wood, who spoke about birds roles in the wild. Remaining on display at WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery until July 13, “Nevermore…” invites guests to contemplate the reflection of human behavior in birds within Roberts’ oil and mixed-media paintings. Roberts has done his own studies of bird behavior, as he regularly moseys about Greenfield Lake to watch the herons, geese and egrets.
“It’s fairly obvious birds do much of the same things people do,” Roberts quips. “They eat, work, get jealous—all that kind of stuff.”
While the title of the exhibit might suggest one of Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, there is nothing dreary about Roberts’ show. He simply wanted a relatable title to birds when “Nevermore…” came to mind. “Sure, I was a fan of some of Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry and stories,” he tells, “but this show is about all birds—not just ravens.”
Along with understanding the significance of their roles in a variety of ecosystems, it’s important for humans to recognize how often we look to birds for inspiration in art, fashion and overall species progression. Roberts says the birds represent freedom. “They can go virtually anywhere within reason,” he tells, “and to see them in flight is an amazing thing.”
Birds of flight have inspired us in many ways. Americans associate their country’s freedom with the image of a robust bald eagle. We’ve also invented our own similar methods of travel. Vivid hues of their feathers frequently channel art, and Roberts’ oil paintings are no exception, as pops of vibrant colors take over the canvases.
“I did several pieces on the idea of the phoenix,” he says. “I’ve always liked the idea of rising from the ashes and new things coming from ruin. There’s a lot of red and orange throughout those paintings.”
Much of his other works, including Roberts’ title piece “Birdland,” are enhanced with shades of blue. Well-known for his abstract art, Roberts deviated from his normal process, yet managed to include some of his signature style .
“When I’m painting abstractly, there are times when I would like to work with something that’s a little more concrete,” he expresses. “With abstract pieces you are working purely on the components of the painting. There’s no subject matter.”
There are components of abstract and “normal” paintings which are the same: color, composition, texture, balance, and line all figures in. Still, they are more obscure in abstract paintings. Instead of envisioning an image beforehand, Roberts would rather allow the painting to reveal itself to him as he worked.
“I start my work randomly on purpose,” he says. “I’ll empty my head and make an odd number of marks, usually three or five, at random points on the canvas in any color. Then, I’ll go back and start responding to those marks and the pallet builds from there. Somewhere along the way the title emerges, as well.”
Not all of Roberts’ paintings emphasize bird-like figures; some are hidden within the swirls of colors and patches of texture. Locating it becomes a puzzle, as one flies into focus, another emerges.
All work included in “Nevermore…” is for sale. While the exhibit will remain on display at WHQR’s MC Erny Gallery until July 13, a closing reception is slated for June 23, from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.