A creative polymath currently in an open and expansive period of working, Roberts has only revealed a snippet of his work for SOFT LIFE/HARD NITES; a series of colourful female portraits and the by-line “travel pictures from both the physical and virtual worlds”. Passport photos or casual holiday snaps? The identities of his powerful subjects are unknown, but like all of Robert’s work, they stir immediate intrigue and infatuation.
The rest of the exhibition will remain a mystery until the opening night. Roberts is excited by this challenge; generating pieces under self-imposed pressure, without restriction or expectation. He feels his best output is realised within this environment.
Every single painting, drawing or sculpture Roberts produces holds its own autonomous, magical world. Executed with inimitable energy and dextrous technique, Roberts uses a wide range of materials to create compelling and often humorous narratives; wooden totem poles, tribal carvings, incredibly detailed canvases and simple abstract sketches. The result is always raw, bewitching and utterly joyful.
Growing up in Kansas, a US state that has a long tradition of folk art, Roberts was unaware of the contemporary art scene that existed further afield. Acting upon a primal compulsion to “make stuff”, Roberts learnt that his most important work came about when he felt he had nothing to lose. The influence of folk art is clear; Roberts creates from instinct and refuses to over-think his process.
Skateboarding, hip-hop, youth culture, girls, pool parties, hanging-out and smoking pot; pop-culture is ever present in Roberts’ work and childhood obsessions with Batman comics and Disney still resound. Working in his studio to an exclusively hip-hop soundtrack, Lil Wayne and Rick Ross are as much an influence as his other heroes, European Renaissance masters Pieter Bruegel and Van Eyck. The marrying of art history references and pop-cultural passions is key to Roberts’ brilliance.
The unsung hero of modern naïve-style art, Roberts is a true pioneer whose style has paved the way for a new generation of contemporary illustrators. Currently living on the outskirts of Oslo in the Norwegian forest, he is virtually off-the-grid, with no online presence whatsoever. A rare thing when instant gratification via social media is so easily achieved. SOFT LIFE/HARD NITES presents a special opportunity to view new works by one of today’s most exciting young artists.