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1 February 2007

Interview with Andrew Roberts

Three women sit around a table in a hazy mauve-tinted sunlit room.

Thank you for talking (to me)

Roberts painting has a dreamy, atmospheric and tranquil quality. His website describes his work as an observation on 'the quiet, common beauty which is both fleeting and easily over-looked.' Colin Hambrook asked him a few questions about pleasures and pitfalls of forging a living as a painter. He talks further on how he arrived at the technique and subject matter of his painting and the effect his heart condition has had on his creative process.

What you are doing to promote and sell your work?

Nothing at the moment. I am in a development phase with Demontfort Fine Art. We're working towards the suitability of my work for a larger mass market, which means I have to take on other considerations than purely my own. This has proven to be difficult, but the contract would be life changing. So I'm persevering.

If things don't work out with Demontfort then I will go back to phoning galleries, emailing them a link to my site and making follow up calls. I am particularly interested in offering my prints! I'm always looking for articles to write, local (free) press any magazine that will have me. I don't exhibit in national or local competitions or exhibitions any more, as they cost money and more effort than I have to give. Nor will I exhibit my works in non-art galleries. I'm not interested in making someone's restaurant look good - for free. I suppose you would say I play a percentages game.

What have been the main obstacles?

Working in total isolation, being so very tired, due my disability, the pressure of production, which is intimidating. The desire is to hide. Finding a place to sell, Selling the thing, having the proceeds halved at best and quartered at worst as the vendor takes their cut. Drying up artistically - this is closely linked to pressure of production. Meeting up with rejection. The biggest of these is feeling so crap about yourself that you fail to make forward momentum, i.e. you stop painting, resultantly the above redouble their negativity.

What motivates you to keep going?

Completing the work that's on the easel. Also, the belief that one-day I will be able to pull in a good enough living and kick the benefits agency to touch. No fanciful artistic desires here I'm afraid, I find they cloud the vision.

What have been your key successes and achievements?

I find my own successes hard to quantify as I am nearly always dissatisfied with myself and only looking to overcome the very next obstacle. The last painting completed is generally where a sense of success and achievement comes from and I love that feeling. I feel as though I have achieved when I look at progress over a period of a few months. 2006 for example was a very good year for achievement as I got a web site designed, up and running and a growing number of works to advertise on it not to mention the prints being made. A key success was going to a gallery to show my works and leaving with a cheque having negotiated the gallery part-buying them from me. I also made my first celeb sale from the same gallery and that one sale helped me believe that my work is desirable and of relevance to the society I live in. The celeb was Nick Owen, the news reader, in case you're wondering.

I've been selling paintings through galleries for two years now. I'm realising I have to be lot more proactive about selling my work. Also, I feel a duty towards those people who have already bought paintings, to try and market the work a bit more. So I've thrown the money I have made through sales, at creating a website and promoting myself. I'm currently represented by Room for Art, in Cobham, and am also exhibiting in the Cowleigh Gallery in the Malvern Hills.

What is your approach to painting?

As a group of works these paintings all seem to have a similar perspective. But I feel as though I need to say something about the way I approach painting in a slightly more formal way. The works are influenced by impressionism, but go one modern stage further. Their single eye is the camera: movie and still photography. A medium for the everyman. That which is conveyed by the camera has largely influenced my understanding of the world and probably yours. My sense of desire and aspiration would not be what it is today without it. Memory and filmic interpretation have merged; can I trust anything within my own head anymore? Blurry shots convey more atmosphere than detail. I am not clear in my head about things anyway; lack of oxygen has seen to that, but I am aware of how things feel to me.

A strong childhood memory is of being trapped inside an Oxygen tent before/ after an operation. Maybe due to drugs or the thick plastic sheeting the image of my parents are blurred and blobby. Or has a common visual understanding of a dream sequence or remembered passage re-interpreted this real memory for me. We rely heavily on this language of TV/film and this is what allows me to convey when I paint.

My impairment is probably the reason I am an artist. I had surgery when I was young and lost the use of my right arm. My mum got me exercising with pencils and I showed ability from an early age. When I was at art school I did a detailed picture of a rib cage. I was angry, at the time, when my doctor made the comparison between the painting and my condition. But, I think your experience of the world, always comes out in your work. I was strongly averse to the idea of anything having anything to do with my impairment until I left art school and began making these very obscure images that looked as if they were made of liquid light. It brought back an early memory of being in an oxygen tent and not being able to have physical contact with my parents. I could hear their voices – but I was medicated and everything was a blur. I realised I was always setting up the subjects in my painting, against the light, in a calm atmosphere. When I realised there was a connection, it seemed to be a happy accident. My subject matter is always familiar, urban or domestic settings. It's very much about that which is around us, because that is the only life I can access. Partly because everything is such a balancing act for me, I want to express the beauty in the simple, mundane events that are the stuff of life.

I need the physicality of paint. There's always an element you can't control – an x-factor – that appeals to me. I'm attracted by stuff that's about people and culture rather than art that talks to itself, or is about fashion.

My influences are the impressionists and the artists who came after Degas, such as Walter Sickert and painters from the London school like Freud and Auerbach. Subtler contemporary painters are harder to find, although I like the work of Michael Andrews. Work like his tracings of the river Thames from its source, using poured paint, is optimistic. Sometimes he uses unusual viewpoints such as a hot air balloon. They are lovely things. I'm always going back to look at the work of Gerhard Richter. It has a more photographic quality, but I love the way he makes his paintings look. I've never really gotten to the bottom of it other than his exploration of life in a filmic, television age. TV has its own nuances and ways of distorting things. For example if you still an image it always creates a fuzziness around peoples heads. The nuances have become a language. Some of the ideas are great, but at the same time I need to satisfy my soul. So I go back to the impressionists and work that is about life, people and living.

I'd recommend a saunter through Andrew Roberts world of soft, reflective light. His paintings and prints are for sale through his website at www.andrewrobertsart.co.uk.

See Andrews Roberts Gallery...

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