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Artist Bonny Roberts creates emotions by layering primary colours
The exhibition opening Saturday at the Osoyoos Art Gallery and featuring the work of Keremeos artist Bonny Roberts is appropriately called “Spectrum.”
The title fits because for Roberts the use of colour is virtually an obsession. Her work will be on display at the gallery from March 15 to April 19 and an opening is planned for Friday from 5 – 7 p.m.
Some artists are most concerned about composition. Others interpret the light.
“With me it’s always colour,” says Roberts, who credits a “wonderful” teacher she had around three decades ago named Richard Nelson.
“He taught us this sort of method and he was a pure colourist,” she says, referring to her technique of layering basic colours on top of each other.
From her earliest watercolours done in a more representational style to her more recent abstracts done in acrylic on canvas or panel, she has stuck to the technique of layering primary colours to create different colour tones.
First she does a layer in pure yellow. Then she does a layer of magenta, a pinkish red. Then finally cyan, a bright blue.
To anyone familiar with the process of printing colour in newspapers or magazines, this is all familiar.
Different shades and colour tones are achieved by combining inks of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, although Roberts doesn’t use black.
To her husband Brian, who was a printer by trade and had learned the process in Liverpool, England, this was old hat.
“I came home from a class with Richard Nelson and began telling him about layering the three colours,” says Roberts. “He looked at me and said ‘well duh.’”
Roberts, 68, was born in Vancouver and grew up in West Vancouver. She travelled extensively as a young adult, hitchhiking around the world.
She and her husband ran a shop selling art supplies in her 30s. When they sold the shop, she got more serious about painting and took classes and taught herself.
She never went to formal art school though.
In high school, she was streamed into an accelerated program that geared students for university, but her father, a musician, encouraged her to pursue her passion instead.
“He said don’t worry about any of that. Just stick to your art,” Roberts recalls. “How many fathers would have said that? Even now, never mind back then.”
Her show in Osoyoos will include some of her older watercolours as well as more recent work.
Visitors will see an evolution from her earliest watercolours, which were landscapes and portraits, through to acrylic paintings which became more and more abstract.
“Acrylics is my medium of choice now,” says Roberts. “I still love watercolours. I always did and I always will, however I’m too impatient now.”
When she painted with watercolours, she didn’t use white paint, but instead just didn’t paint where the white areas were, leaving the white of the paper.
With acrylics, however, she does use white paint in addition to the three primary colours.
Roberts has also painted in oils, but she now does this less often.
“I’ve done a lot of oils in the early days, but the only reason I don’t – I still love oils – is just again I’m too impatient because I like to get it dry so I can put another layer on,” she says.
Asked why she evolved to a more abstract style, she pauses to think about it.
“I wonder why I did that,” she says. “I just wanted to get looser. People don’t realize, but for me to do a good abstract is harder than to do a really very good representational because you have nothing to go by, but all the rules still apply.”
She acknowledges that abstracts aren’t always as accessible to the casual viewer, who sometimes doesn’t know what makes a good abstract.
When she moved from the Lower Mainland to Keremeos and began teaching classes about 10 years ago, one of her students commented on the difference between her abstract and representational works.
“She said to me ‘why are you doing that’ pointing to my abstract ‘when you can do that?’ pointing to my super realism,” Roberts recalls. “I said, it’s just how you feel. One comes from the head and the other comes from the heart. Funnily enough she came to one of my abstract classes and now that’s all she wants to do.”
For Roberts, who acknowledges that she’s right-brained, the emotion stirred by a work of art is the most important.
“I always say to people I don’t even care if the drawing isn’t quite right,” she says. “If you look at a piece and it grabs you, there’s something exciting about it to me that’s the most important. I try to get that with colour.”