Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ann Roberts: with both fear and intrepid enthusiasm

A 50-year retrospective exhibition is a significant milestone in a career by anyone's measurement.  It is a time for assessment, reflection and for facing the demons of past misinterpretation and setting the record straight.  The title of this exhibition, Ann Roberts: with both fear and intrepid enthusiasm, reflects the mixed emotions that come with such a milestone.  It reflects fear and hope like the two sides of a coin, or like the two-headed Roman god Janus, who oversees beginnings and transitions.  Janus looks to the future and the past in opposite directions.  Together, fear and enthusiasm– or hope–represents a whole spectrum of emotions.  This "wholeness" is very characteristic of Roberts and her ceramics practice as a sculptor on a variety of levels.

The preceding paragraph is the opener for my essay in the catalogue for the Ann Roberts retrospective that opens up January 29, 2012 and runs until April 8th at the Clay & Glass Gallery in Waterloo.  January, by the way, was named after the god Janus whom I invoke in the introduction. 

When the curator of the Clay & Glass, Christian Bernard Singer, called and asked if I would write the lead essay for the catalogue I immediately said yes.  My dance card was full but I wanted to find a way to do this project.  Back in '93, I had done a 20-year retrospective of Ann's sculpture for the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery.  So although, the timing was less than ideal I thought I could pull the rabbit out of the hat.  Ann had come to St. John's years ago to do a clay workshop and we got together then to catch up.  Also, she had always been on my radar since the '93 retrospective, I was aware that she had continued to grow as an artist and that her work had evolved significantly.  It would be interesting to find out more.

There was also a personal reason for taking on the assignment.  Ann was grieving the unexpected death of her husband.  I remember Gwilym as tall and athletic.  As a geologist he really enjoyed Newfoundland and its lunar landscape.  Gwilym could have stepped out of Chariots of Fire.  When he went in for a knee replacement no one expected him to die, least of all Ann.  I wanted to be a part of Ann's healing after such a heart-breaking loss.  Contributing to the success of this show would be meaningful.  Not just another gig.

The professional in me was curious to discover what needed to be said about Ann Roberts the sculptor that had not been said before.  My contribution was a more Jungian interpretation of Ann's work with a dash of Tantra thrown in.  See both Ann's Floating Woman pictured above and her Fish Encounter below.  Ann's female figures, to me, are not just about women but about the feminine principle.  The woman and fish are, to me, like ying and yang or a union of female and male energies.

I also took the opportunity to reach out to Aggie Beynon and Jonathon Bancroft Snell who had represented Ann's work commercially to learn about the perceptions of the public and Ann's collectors.  Dealers are always worth talking to in my experience.  They have a wonderful vantage point and oodles of contextual experience.  Finally, I knew I was supposed to be doing this assignment when on early Saturday morning I walked in to my son's Christmas concert in downtown St. John's and was introduced by my husband to Jane and Tony Urquhart.  Jane is the novelist (of course) and her (Order of Canada/ painter) husband was there.  They were visiting St. John's and attending their granddaughter's concert.  Tony Urquhart had been Ann Roberts' colleague at the University of Waterloo, Fine Arts Department for decades.  He gave me a lovely quote for the essay.  I could not have made it happen any better.

Here's the link to the Clay & Glass:

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