Artist Spotlight: Annette Roberts-Gray
The valley is full of great painters and great ceramicists, but it’s not every day you run into someone who has mastered both art forms.
Annette Roberts-Gray is an accomplished watercolor artist currently focusing on small-format watercolors in an effort to simplify, and she’s also a respected ceramic artist who may be best-known for her large installation honoring American soldiers who lost their lives after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
No matter how you know her, Roberts-Gray has made her mark on the art scene locally and beyond. She told the Post Independent how she became an artist and what inspires her work.
Post Independent: Give me a little bit of your history with the valley.
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Annette Roberts-Gray: I first came to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1981. I took a job as the clinician for a medical clinic in Glenwood Springs. It was the height of the oil shale boom, and I had a terrible time finding housing. I ended up house-sharing with three other people in a four-bedroom house up Four Mile Road, so it was easy to pick up skiing at Sunlight, then take it up to Highlands. It was a fun time to be single, and I hung out occasionally with this crazy bunch of nurses from Valley View who called themselves “Girls A Go Go.” They were pretty much non-stop. For my art fix I took ceramic classes with Henry Mead at CMC when the pottery studio was at the Blake Street Campus.
I met [my husband] Andrew in 1986 when he was at UW-Madison completing his MFA. He told me every artist should spend a year in New York, so we moved to the city. We were there for six years. I bribed him to move back with me to Glenwood in 1993.
PI: When and how did you first become interested in art?
ARG: There was never a time when I was not interested in art. It’s in my genes. My great-grandfather painted western landmarks such as the Tetons and Rainbow Bridge. Many of his paintings hang in the Utah State Capitol building.
PI: Tell me about some of the formal and informal art training you’ve had, and about the mediums you work in.
ARG: I took as many art classes as I could in school, but I always felt conflicted. I was also very good in math and science, so I ended up following a “practical” career path. My father was an engineer. I was never encouraged to have any confidence that I could make a living with my art.
In college I focused on ceramics, but that probably had more to do with the fact that one can make functional, useful things from clay. There’s that “practical” thing again. In New York, I spent a lot of time at Cooper Union in drawing classes, took private watercolor lessons and did an internship at a paper-making studio. Exposure to all of the amazing clay artists associated with the Carbondale Clay Center had the biggest influence on my work in clay and brought me to the point of feeling satisfied and proud of my clay skills. One of my bodies of work involves junk mail. It makes me feel good that I am recycling.
PI: What are some of the things that inspire you to start a new piece?
ARG: I get these quirky ideas and it just goes from there.
PI: Is there a project, piece or exhibition you’re particularly proud of?
ARG: Right now I’m totally into my small-format watercolors because I’m feeling the desire to simplify, and that’s what these are all about.
I know many valley residents still associate me with my large installation pieces honoring the American soldiers who were lost in Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003. These “Memorial Vases,” small, unique tributes to each soldier, were shown individually and en masse in many venues throughout the valley and Colorado between 2006 and 2011. This body of work consumed me for a number of years.
Still, there is nothing more satisfying to me than to run into someone who tells me, “I love that mug you made. I drink my tea from it every morning.”
PI: Do you do anything else involving art, like teach?
ARG: I will be teaching a small-format watercolor class next week at Anderson Ranch in Snowmass.
PI: Where can people view your art?
ARG: At Anderson Ranch in Snowmass Village. In Carbondale I have two pieces in the show “12 x 2” at CCAH, and my piece, “Quilt,” which is made of junk mail, is on display at the Carbondale Branch Library through the month of July. I have a few small watercolors at Artist’s Mercantile in Glenwood.
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