Nancy Roberts' art on display at Delta Gallery
By Lou Fancher
Nancy Roberts draws and paints the invisible.
The Oakley artist's figure portraits capture the inner tension of a live model in free-spirited, spontaneous lines; blinds drawn and blue sky reflections in the windows of a colorful Victorian home in Alameda refuse a glimpse of the indoors; tilted toys and up-close tools in still lives suggest active play and craft without being shown in motion; vibratory color in landscapes and streetscapes telegraph wind or the cacophonous sounds of a traffic jam.
An exhibit through Nov. 29 at Brentwood's Delta Gallery invites visitors to view 37 pieces selected from Roberts' work, along with new work from the gallery's collective of local artists. A free reception Saturday allows an opportunity to meet Roberts and learn about her process.
Roberts, 60, works in a bedroom-converted-to-studio in the home she and her husband, Dave Roberts, have lived in for 22 years. A San Diego native, she came to the Bay Area to attend the UC Berkeley, eventually becoming an architect.
But long before, she recalls art and design being part of everyday life.
"We had art all around because my mother was an artist. She took us to art classes. There were camping trips. She'd set up her easel in a beautiful national park and she'd help me do my little painting," Roberts says. Practical design skills, she learned from her father. "He was an aerospace engineer and then bought a cabinet shop. I worked with him and built a lot of cabinets."
In her Oakley studio, a favorite item is the easel her father built, using hardware from her grandmother's easel. "My mother painted on it and now it's mine," she says.
Connections to history characterize her fondest memories of architectural projects she worked on before retiring from the field. Restorations were most satisfying. Entering a building that had fallen into disrepair, Roberts was part detective: "Who built it and why, what had happened in it?" she asks. "I remember a funeral home in Pasadena that was brick, with a stained-glass window. Ferreting out the hidden stories that were in the old building, then bringing them back to life, was most enjoyable."
Even so, Roberts appreciates immediacy and prefers acrylic paints over oils because they dry quickly and allow her to build in layers without delay.
"I can start with translucent color, then come in right away with more opaque layers and textures," she says.
Pushed color, beyond the retinal reality of a scene, is a part of her signature style. Saturated Granny apple green fields, Mt. Diablo infused with magenta and topped with zigzag violet accents, the bold blue leaves of a lusty, upright artichoke and other examples of aggressive color define much of her portfolio.
"I feel free because I'm not a photographer," she says. "Each color is a response to the one before."
Beyond technique and tools, the intrigue that led her to explore and restore architecture continues to dominate.
"It's a live human in front of me when I do figure sketching," she says. "The energy of a person who's not going to be there more than 20 minutes, who's holding a pose -- there's tension in their muscles that I draw."
Buildings, she says, are stiff, but light is static.
"I paint them more deliberately. I respond to the sedate structure of things." And landscapes painted outdoors? "Bees and wind in an orchard painting I did caused ground lines that transformed into a EKG-like line, sort of like the buzzing I was hearing," she recalls.
Responsive to environment, reflecting a model's spirit, depicting architecture's solidity -- Roberts' work makes visible the things previously unseen.