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Cameron Byron Roberts
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Cameron Byron Roberts: What it’s all About
My work is based on the interpretation of nature in color, texture and luminosity. Paintings are created in acrylic with multiple layers of paint, mixed media, mediums and marble dust.
The artists which inspire my work are the color field painters of the 1960’s, Rothko and Frankenthaler, the abstract expressionists of the 1980’s, Richter and Keifer, and the many contemporary English abstract painters, working in a landscape not unlike mine, here on the Great Marsh of Boston’s North Shore.
My work is minimalist, where “less is more,” and imperfections abound. In times of visual sensory overload, the viewer is invited across surfaces, cracks and disruptions where their own interpretation becomes part of the creative act.
Sources of Inspiration
Inspiration comes from other painters, past and present, and from the musicians who guide my work while in the studio, including Mark Knoplfer’s beautifully fragmented solos, Chet Baker’s disrupted melodies, Tyler Childer’s desperate ballads, Patty Griffin’s melancholy clarity (see the playlist on my website). These have informed my work as much as anything.
The landscape as a subject has enduring quality in the midst of “civilization and its discontents.” It remains unchanged and has the power to remind us of the awe of the childhood discovery of the marsh, the thicket, the meadow, and the sea. In the battle against climate change, nature will prevail, whether we do or not. My paintings are a kind of witness in the meantime.
My process moves from large to small and small to large at the same time. When I first approach a landscape I work with small studies on paper
These allow me to get an overall sense of the color palette and structure of a place. They also tell me something about the relationship between the sky and the ground. On a cloudy day the sky is often reflecting the colors of the landscape below, hence a greenish blue sky. Under a clear cobalt blue sky the shadows become warm and purple. This exercise is not like the fly fisher reading the water to see where the trout are hiding underneath.
The next step is a transitional one in which I explore the fundamental palette of a place in a slightly larger format. These works are generally done on canvas, copped and torn down to 8 x 8 inches when I have focused in on the parts that mean something to me.
The final phase is a close reading of the light and shadow discovered in the earlier paintings. As the format becomes larger the viewer can experience rather than just look at a painting. These are the most intimate and therefore the most personal of the paintings.
A Note on Acrylic
My transition from oils to acrylics was both practical and ideological. After mixing all kinds of things into the oils I found my surfaces starting to become unstable as I was constantly adding and subtracting from the painting, compressing layers into each other. For several years now I have used squeegees, palette knives, concrete floats and levelers. If I use a brush, it’s not to paint but just to deliver material to the surface. After that, all the “painting” is done with the tools above. By the time I finished a larger painting, the oil and cold wax surfaces were destabilized.
At the same time I began to notice that the painters I admired were largely working in acrylic on canvas. It seemed to represent a freedom in which all the accidents of painting could be recorded, buried, revealed again and subverted. So I tried it. It was a very tough transition at first. Acrylics are somewhat unforgiving. You make a mark and it, while you’re still contemplating, decides you’re finished and dries up, thereby memorializing what was only conjectural gesture. The secret, I came to realize, is to keep moving forward, attack and re-attack, until the cumulative layers start to cooperate into something that registers, and that with luck you can steer toward a safe landing.
Finally, on the virtues of both oil and acrylic, it seems to me they neutralize each other on the environmental front. The oils are natural, and so are VOC’s which have a deleterious environmental effect. Then again, the acrylics are plaster, a petroleum product at the end of the day, and yet hopefully most of their impact remains on the canvas. What would the old masters do if faced with the choices we have?