JACKSON, Wyo. — Mary Roberson loves a blank canvas. Wired toward realism but enamored with abstraction, she begins by laying down texture, arriving at the subject matter last.
“It’s like a photographer going out and saying, ‘I’m going to photograph hummingbirds today.’ And then a pack of wolves walks by. It never works,” she says. “Even when I make a decision, I’ll get halfway through and the painting will take off in a completely different direction.”
Such detours distinguish her paintings, like the massive piece she made years ago for the National Museum of Wildlife Art. She finished in time (deadlines are a necessary evil in her ruminative practice) only to flip the canvas upside down and see it anew.
“Once I turned that one painting upside down, I saw another painting and I redid the whole thing in less than a day,” Roberson said. “I already had the background and all the texture, which is 80 percent of the painting for me. It was just a matter of changing the subject matter.”
Roberson has a new show currently on display at Altamira, titled “Relax.”
“If I spend a week on a painting, and then it turns out it’s not working, it’s OK because the time I spent struggling is the exact time I would spend doing an abstract background, full of layers and texture,” Roberson said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to paint abstractly, but it’s the hardest damn thing in the world for me.”
The friction of creativity fuels her: she thrives on pushing herself to see more and say more, with less — less resolution, less grip. “Whenever I am sketching or painting, I have to remember to use my peripheral vision, which allows me to see relationships, rather than zooming in on one thing,” she says. “The most challenging thing for me is the negative areas. It’s not about the subject, but rather, ‘How can I paint a yellow-headed blackbird without focusing on the bird?’ I like letting texture lead into the subject. The negative spaces say more than the positive.”
“I have so much fun, but I’m my own worst enemy,” she says, hence her latest title, Relax. “I find titles are usually about the artist. I’m telling myself to relax.”
Inspired by her yard — its own ecosystem of birds and behaviors — she considers how creatures relate in the natural world. She gives herself the same latitude as an artist; her compositions are less about concepts carefully presented and more about currents spontaneously conceived.
Wise beyond her brush, she shares self-critiques that land more like credos: “Non-creatives may try for perfection, but there’s no such thing for artists. I don’t like the word ‘imperfections’— we just, are.”