"I’m going to continue to push my work forward. The work has always come first. It has to be the work, because it’s no good if it’s not. That’s my philosophy. I don’t push that on anyone else. That’s just always been my thing. That the work has to do what it needs to do."
In this highly anticipated followup to my first interview with Deborah from March of 2018, we sit down to talk about all of the wonderful and sometimes challenging aspects of her amazing career over the last year and a half since we last spoke. From grants to residencies to gallery representation in Los Angeles and London, it has been a will ride. But don’t think she is an overnight success. Her work ethic and passion have carried her though over four decades of pursing art to where she is now. As they say, luck is when opportunity meets preparation.
Deborah shares how her work has been evolving and where it is headed, her studio practice, as well as giving us a peek into some ideas for her upcoming one women show at The Contemporary Austin a year from now. I think Deborah proves that hard work, integrity, and persistence can change your life and the lives of others in a positive way. She is even planning to start a foundation to help other artists get the help that she so dearly needed to grow her career early on. If you haven heard our first conversation that covers the history of her life and career before last year, have a listen to Episode 19.
Artist statment and Bio courtesy of Deborah's website.
Whether I was aware of it or not, otherness has been at the center of my consciousness since the beginning of my artistic career. My early ideals of race and beauty were shaped by and linked through paintings of renaissance artists and photographs in fashion magazines. Those images were mythical, heroic, beautiful, and powerful and embodied a particular status that was not afforded equally to anyone I knew. Those images influenced the way I viewed myself and other African Americans, which led me to investigate the way our identities have been imagined and shaped by societal interpretations of beauty. Having one’s identity dismantled, marginalized and regulated to non-human status demands action. This led me to critically engage image-making in art history and pop-culture, and ultimately grapple with whatever power and authority these images have over the female figure.
My art practice takes on social commentary, critiquing perceptions of ideal beauty. Stereotypes and myths are challenged in my work; I create a dialogue between the ideas of inclusion, dignity, consumption, and subjectivity by addressing beauty in the form of the ideal woman, the Venus. By challenging Venus, my work challenges the notion of universal beauty—making room for women of color who are not included in this definition.
Wading through my work, you must look through multiple layers, double meanings and symbols. My process combines found and manipulated images with hand drawn and painted details to create hybrid figures. These figures often take the form of young girls. I’m interested in the way young girls symbolize vulnerability but also a naïve strength. The girls who populate my work, while subject to societal pressures and projected images, are still unfixed in their identity. Each girl has character and agency to find their own way amidst the complicated narratives of American, African American and art history.
Deborah Roberts (American, b. 1962) is a mixed media artist whose work challenges the notion of ideal beauty. Her work has been exhibited internationally across the USA and Europe. Her work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York; Brooklyn Museum, New York, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; The Block Museum of Art, Evanston, Illinois; Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, Texas; Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta, Georgia; Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey; and The Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Saratoga Springs, New York. Roberts is the recipient of the Anonymous Was a Woman Grant (2018), the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2016) and a Ginsberg-Klaus Award Fellowship (2014). She received her MFA from Syracuse University, New York. She lives and works in Austin, Texas. Roberts is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.
Some of the subjects we discuss:
The first interview
Since the last interview
Painting vs Collage
Flat and fixed
Work about boys
Where the work goes
Tamir Rice shooting
Evolving the work
Boys with pink shirts
Using fist imagery
Do you see the subtlety
Lot’s of work to be done
The first year/Car analogy
Taking control/Staying true
People working with her
Keeping up the level
Who gets the work
Meeting new people
Paying the bills
Time to grow the work
The work was fracturing
Fear of changing
Grants for artists
A little bit of help
Not an overnight success
It’s not easy/Stress
Hours a week
Why not be preachy
Getting back to people
New book release
Talk at Blanton
October 4, 2019 6pm-8pm
Book Release/Signing of "Deborah Roberts: The Evolution of Mimi"
George Washington Carver Museum, Cultural and Genealogy Center
1165 Angelina St, Austin, Texas 78702
October 8th, 2019 6:30pm
This event is free to the public but pre-registration is recommended.
Blanton Museum of Art
The University of Texas at Austin
200 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Austin, TX 78712
Banner image - Deborah Roberts
LET THEM BE CHILDREN 120" x 45"
Mixed Media Collage on Canvas 2018
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Intro music generously provided by Stan KillianSupport Austin Art Talk Podcast
- Deborah Roberts
- Stephen Friedman Gallery
- Deborah Roberts: Native Sons: Many thousands gone | Exhibitions | VIELMETTER LOS ANGELES
- Austin Art Talk Podcast Episode 19: Deborah Roberts - Dedicated to the Work
- Betelhem Makonnen - Deborah's studiomate
- George Stinney - Wikipedia
- Shooting of Tamir Rice - Wikipedia
- Amy Sherald
- Why the Crisis of Missing Black Girls Needs More Attention - Ebony
- Rauschenberg Residency on Captiva | Robert Rauschenberg Foundation
- Deborah Roberts - The Contemporary Austin - September 12, 2020 – January 13, 2021