Interview: Charlie Roberts

Charlie Roberts recent exhibition at Richard Heller showcased a contemporary double-take on old European salon style exhibitions. His subject matter sifts through the sheer availability and prevalence of, signs, symbols and iconographies present in today’s visual landscape. Roberts notes, “the groups of things isolated on blank pages started as a sort of excercise or study to ween my hand and eyes off using photographs to paint figures from in my paintings, and over time they became a end in themselves, a way to make a painting with out.” Organized in loose, self-devised groupings, in a pseudo-scientific faux-taxonomical manner Linnaeus would be proud of, Roberts draws parallels between hundreds of gestures and ideas. The result are images that look like they could be pulled straight from vintage Audobon Society botanical illustrations. Yet with titles and conglomerations of groups such as “NYC Hip Hop,” “Gang Bangin’,” and themes such as obsessive object collecting and Scientology, Roberts depicts not the wildlife of geographic and biological discovery, but bravely explores our digital, information-soaked New World.

SL: Your work sifts through a veritable visual glut of various signs, symbols and iconographies. Some of your series present them in loose, self-devised groupings in a fashion not unlike Linnaeus-inspired taxonomies, or the organization of Audobon botanical illustrations. Your classifications obviously differ, in their contemporary relevance at least– with titles such as “NYC Hip Hop,” “Cooking,” “Church,” and “Gang Bangin.” What makes you choose a particular grouping? What’s your process like as far as compiling your paintings?


CR: The groups of things isolated on blank pages started as a sort of exercise or study to wean my hand and eyes off using photographs to paint figures from in my paintings, and over time they became an end in themselves, a way to make a painting without the math of composing an image, no perspective, no symmetry, just figures placed where they fit, each with equal footing.


SL: One of your images, “The Collector” depicts a collector obsessively hoarding over his world in miniature, a spread of small figurines on a table and surrounded with glossy magazine spreads. Is this a self-portrait ? Who is the character of the “collector” and what does the term evoke in your mind?


CR: It is not a self-portrait. I am a collector at heart and would be more of one in reality if I was a rich man but I am fascinated by the compulsion to possess objects, and think that that compulsion acts as a kind of lubricant for civilization to function.


SL: Some of your works depict a kind of meta-narrative as far as the process of creating the actual works—where (I’m assuming it’s your likeness, anyway) you insert yourself into the image. Why do you choose to insert yourself? How do you think this functions overall?


CR: I also make music, and in both songs and pictures my natural place is as a storyteller. I love stories, and think they are the best invention ever to transmit information.


SL: You often present your works as covers of the New Yorker—what’s your fascination with this publication and presenting your works within the framework of its cover?


CR: I live in Norway and the New Yorker is my weekly dose of a certain Americaness (of the eastcoast variety). It succeeds because everything is framed as story, makes news go down easier for me, and it also is like a cabinet of curiosities in its range of subject matter. I also think that as of late the cover art has been generally bad and they needed some help. (Bruce Mcall is brilliant).

SL:Another visual strategy you seem compelled to (and in some ways, reflected in both the installment of your works, and the organization within the image itself) is the old European salons. What do you like about this specific presentation of paintings?


CR: The salon device is another great exercise, and in the case of the salons I learn much subconsciously from the compositions of the great paintings of the western world. It is a different kind of seeing to look at an image and then copy it. Some more of its information gets stored in your brain. It is an old practice that I would encourage painters to take back up.


SL: I love the image “Magsci”—it’s such an epic thunderdome of wonder from a 70’s retro-futuristic science fiction or something—where did the inspiration from this piece come from? I’m not even sure exactly what the structure is- what is it representing?


CR: That painting is about Scientology.


SL: Another image I love is “Thug Elton”—its hilarious–why a Russian-prison-style gang-banger tattooed Elton John? I have to say a tattooed man seems like another ingenious way to simultaneously present a number of signs and symbols within one “body,” much like salon-style hanging.


CR: You nailed it on the head. I’m always hunting for new information delivery devices, and the tattoos are one I have just started trying out. The guy just happened to look like Elton


SL: If you could create a dream project, that didn’t have to adhere to the norms of reality, scope, cost…what would it be?


CR: Two things. If I were bank rolled I would like to spend 2 years making an insanely dense illustrated children’s book, one like this world has never seen. Also I would like to carve an army of gigantic figures from redwood trees, figures that stood 10 stories tall, maybe 50 of them that would be arranged in a circle with a skateboard slash motorcycle bowl in the middle, enclosed in a glass cylinder with a walkway above them.


SL: Where else can we see your work in the coming months?


CR: I have a show at Kravets Wehby Gallery in NYC in December


For more of Charlie Roberts’s work, please visit:

Charlie Roberts

Or visit: Kravets Wehby Gallery

Vous Etes Ici

Galleri Magnus Karlsson

Rice Gallery

Image Credits:

Images courtesy of artist and Richard Heller Gallery

NYC Hip Hop, 2008
6 x 4 Inches , Gouache on Paper

Gainsboro and Beyonce, 2007
44 x 30 Inches , Gouache on Paper

The Collector, 2007
44 x 30 Inches , Gouache on Paper

Magsci, 2007
44 x 30 Inches , Gouache on Paper

Cats and Heads, 2005
15 x 11 Inches , watercolor on paper

Salon, 2005
22.5 x 30 Inches , watercolor on paper

Untitled, 2006
40 x 28 Inches , Gouache on Paper

Charlie Roberts Bouquet, 2006
78.5 x 55 Inches , watercolor on paper

Hip Art Show, 2006
20 x 16 Inches , Oil on panel

Thug Elton, 2007
44 x 30 Inches , Gouache on Paper

Titty Eyes, 2007
25.5 x 20 Inches , Gouache on Paper

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