Fictive Strategies: Suzanne Sbarge & Holly Roberts
October 2, 2020 - June 5, 2021
Suzanne Sbarge and Holly Roberts share a similar sensibility; they both use collage, weaving textures and images into surrealistically enigmatic artworks that open subconscious doorways into the ambiguous space of the night: haunting dreams brim with narrative probability remaining stubbornly resistant to a literal interpretation. Both artists live in and are intimately familiar with the New Mexico landscape where a deep stillness is part of the character of both
the land and the people who inhabit it.
-Excerpt from Mary Anne Redding
I work intuitively, painting an abstract image before applying bits and pieces of photographic fragments and other materials on the surface of the painting. What I am trying for is a painting that can stand alone but that won’t dominate the collage that is to follow. However, in large part, it is the painting that determines what is to follow; the colors, the movement, the essence of the paint.
Once I start forming the image, I select materials that speak to me. Most of what I use are photographs that I have taken and materials that I have either made or collected. These bits and pieces will provide the structure of the story as it unfolds, giving me the clues I need to understand where I’m headed. It’s much like following a trail of breadcrumbs through the forest; not knowing where I’m headed but trusting that I will, eventually, arrive. The collage works best when the pieced photos make up something that they aren’t about literally, but have a metaphorical or poetic connection, either through subject or texture.
The large concerns in my life are at the core of my work: the degradation of the environment, spiritual meaning in a world of polarized and extremist views, the stress and fear of aging, the daily fears and anxieties of being alive in the world today. My default subjects are usually awkward, sometimes threatening, and most often, a little lonely. My work is about the people, animals, and landscapes which inhabit my world, both urban and wild. As well, I have always had an ongoing fascination with portraiture, trying to capture an essence without being too literal.
These collages allow me to continue to do what I have always done with my art; by processing the world through my eyes and my hands, I am able to make a greater sense of the confusion, the complexity, and the humor of the world around me.
In my mixed media collage paintings, I depict hybrid characters and creatures, exploring the place of animals in the human imagination during this time of rapid environmental change. I work with a wide range of current, extinct and/or imagined animals and fauna, with an emphasis on birds and avian life forms. Through my art process, I connect with the reality that we are not just interconnected with animals, we are animals.
My process involves trying to access the place of dreams, the nonlinear, open-ended, mysterious place, where the conscious mind is not in charge. “Animals wake up the imagination,” said James Hillman in Dream Animals. “You see a deer by the side of the road, or geese ﬂying in formation, and you become hyper-alert…animal dreams can do this too…As we get more into imagining, we get more animal-like….”
The juxtaposition of paint and collage in my work gives a sense of altered vision. This “collaged state of mind” – the dialogue between the real and the surreal – is what I look for. Ever-present are the dualities of familiarity and otherworldliness, interior and exterior, domesticity and freedom, sky and earth, real and imagined.
Hillman said “The idea that we know ourselves through animals appears again and again in theories of the origins of consciousness. Some peoples say the animals once had all the knowledge and transmitted it to us.” In this body of work, I am seeking reﬂections of animal consciousness within all of us.
About the Artist
Holly Roberts’ first national exposure came in 1989 with the publication of the monograph, Holly Roberts, from the Untitled Series published by the Friends of Photography. Although her work has always been based on the photograph, it was the inclusion of paint that made it so distinct. As David Featherstone says in his introduction, “Roberts is a painter, yet it is the photograph underlying the paint, even when it can scarcely be seen, that gives the work its intriguing, mysterious power. Drawing from the iconography of primitive art, particularly that of the Native American, Mexican and Hispanic cultures of the Southwest, where she lives, she creates paintings that address a broad range of human emotions. While it is Roberts’ evolving interaction with the photograph that takes her to her finished work, it is the existence of the underlying photographic image—even when it is obscured by paint—that gives the work its powerful qualities and sets up the emotional challenge for the viewer.”
Roberts obtained her M.F.A from Arizona State University and has also studied at the University of New Mexico, and Bellas Artes De Mexico in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Her work has been exhibited in over 90 individual exhibitions and over 100 group exhibitions across the United States and internationally. Her work is in the collections of many public and corporate collections across the United States. A dedicated teacher as well as a prolific artist, she has had a profound effect on a community of artists around the country. She continues to live and work in the Southwest.
Suzanne Sbarge was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1965. She has lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1989. She received her B.A. degree in art history and studio arts from Barnard College in New York City and her M.A. degree in Art Education from the University of New Mexico. She has also studied studio arts at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Toulouse, France; Syracuse University in Florence, Italy; The Art Students’ League in New York City; University of Connecticut; University of Massachusetts; as well as Anderson Ranch in Colorado, Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and Vermont Studio Center. Her work has been exhibited in over 75 group exhibitions and 15 solo shows since the late 1980s. It is in the collections of over 100 local, national and international collectors, and has been represented at galleries across the United States.
In addition to her own work, she is a gallery director, curator, graphic designer and arts consultant. She is the Founder/Executive Director of 516 ARTS in Albuquerque, an independent, non-collecting contemporary art museum in downtown Albuquerque. In her arts administration work, she focuses on contemporary art and interdisciplinary projects in an educational context.
Video & Exhibit Guide
www.hollyrobertsstudio.com – Official website
http://hollyrobertsonepaintingatatime.blogspot.com/ – Blog
https://www.facebook.com/Holly-Roberts-Art-184875581524827/ – Facebook
https://www.instagram.com/hollyrobertsstudio/ – Instagram