Born in Rustenburg, South Africa, artist Kevin Roberts is known for his distinctive paintings of pattern and symbol in a decorative style of archetypal motifs.
In his artistic statement Roberts describes his paintings as functioning on many levels, from the formal to the conceptual. He states “What I intend to do with my painting is to re-awaken within the viewer the rewarding and pleasurable act of looking at a unique, rich and considered two-dimensional object.” In this way Roberts aims to evoke a meditative contemplation of his images by combining pattern with symbolic imagery of a deeper meaning.
“Given that we are so saturated with visual information, one of the questions I always ask myself is if the universe really needs another image, to be absorbed. I balance this against my obsession to ´Be´ through making. The end result is hopefully an object that can be added to in terms of its meanings and taken in slowly and meditatively over a long time." This has given us arresting images which explore ideas of beauty through craftsmanship and pattern as part of an integrated whole.
Ingrid Stevens, professor and extensively published art critic and head of the fine arts department of Tshwane University, has written on Kevin Roberts’ work aligning it with the concept of textile and weaving. Stevens states “the notion of weaving is an apt metaphor for Roberts’ paintings generally, as in them he draws different threads together into a rich tapestry.”
Roberts has made paintings over a number of years, that together make up a dense, complex body of work, many of which contain references to weaving and textile: from woman’s hair braided into woven patterns to depictions of exquisitely embroidered Chinese style cloths and bare trees forming intertwined patterns. “Recurring symbols provide abundant material for interpretation. Many works show a robed woman, sitting or standing quietly or engaged in some activity, yet always still, calm and tranquil. She is an archetype, not a specific person, a Madonna or mother, sister or daughter, a teacher or a bearer of new life, or a metaphor for some aspect of the human condition, such as human spirituality, the unconscious, the meditative and the instinctive. She is juxtaposed with myriad other signs: signs of the mundane, everyday world.” In this way Roberts paintings function on several levels. The density of texture; formation of outlines, contours and spaces; define and clarify, while at the same time, integrate different parts of the painting by setting up echoes and resonances between surfaces; this creates a sense of energy and movement and can be full of nuance, surprise and subtlety. Roberts superimposes one pattern on another, typical of his decorative style, and this increases the intricacy of his works.
Stevens continues “Furthermore, this intricate patterning has significance and carries meaning, as the patterns themselves can be interpreted, and enrich the expressive potential of the paintings. Some patterns are more covert in their providence and meanings, becoming ambiguous. They communicate values, beliefs, pleasure, labour and a “joy in the senses”(Fuller 1985:8, 248). Holding all this complexity and variety together is the formal composition, which is always balanced, stable and frontal, like the pyramidal and symmetrical arrangements of much Renaissance painting. This gives an overall sense of stillness and repose to the very full and animated surfaces. The creation of these surfaces, the actual making of these patterns and images, is an extremely time-consuming one for Roberts, requiring consummate craftsmanship. This is something of a rare activity in the broader field of contemporary art, where, as the painter Balthus (In Wright 2001:51-52) states, most artist have forgotten that painting is, above all, the craft of painting. He declares that painting is the “love of looking at everyday beauty … of seeing ordinary things as enchanting and seductive, and letting them switch on the imagination and connect to memory”.
His career boasts five solo exhibitions in Johannesburg from 1993-2004, as well as numerous group exhibitions. His work is in several public collections including SASOL, ABSA, Sanlam, and Pretoria Art Museum to name a few. Roberts has also achieved several awards including winning the Volkskas Atelier in ’94 and ’95. He lived and worked in Johannesburg, lecturing part-time on painting and ceramics around Pretoria. He has several pieces of sculpture to add to the critical acclaim of his body of paintings.