Artists embrace vision that’s certainly ‘Not From Wal-Mart’
Annette Roberts-Gray doesn’t have anything against Wal-Mart, necessarily, but that doesn’t keep her stamping “Not From Wal-Mart” on the bottom of her pottery.
It’s not Wal-Mart exactly that gets Roberts-Gray going, but she did take issue when a woman in Iowa asked her, “Why are you wasting all your time making all that stuff? You can get all the dishes you need at Wal-Mart.”
Roberts-Gray and her husband, Andrew, are showing their curious combination of art this month at Main Street Gallery in Glenwood Springs.
Annette’s pottery (mostly plates, bowls and mugs) is greenish in color, and everyday in nature ” save for the “Wal-Mart” stamp. Andrew’s paintings are oil on canvas of natural and manmade landscapes. The art doesn’t look to have much in common at first, but both offer a cultural critique.
“This body of work,” Annette wrote in her artist’s statement “is my response … to my perception of the lack of appreciation for the everyday object in our culture today.
“I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the subtleties of the functional object ” the way the handle fits the hand, the way the lip of the cup fits the lip of the user.”
“An everyday object can be a super thing,” she said during a recent interview.
“One of our most fun things every morning is to look in the cupboard and see which pot we’re going to use,” she said.
Andrew’s art is much different. He paints landscapes of high deserts, the Las Vegas strip, or parking lots, overlaid with circuit boards and digital numbers. Visually, his art is much different than Annette’s pottery, but philosophically, they are almost identical.
“The last 10 years I’ve been kind of working on some different strategies to talk about the interaction between nature and technology,” Andrew said.
Nature and technology interact all the time, he said. He uses digital photography to capture images of nature, the lights of Las Vegas on the potted palm trees along the strip.
“In a perfect world in nature and engineering there’s a seamless continuum,” he said. But we’re not there yet, with engineering jutting imperfectly into nature.
The continuum between engineering and nature in Andrew’s art isn’t seamless, either, with circuit boards and bright red numbers cutting across his landscapes. But that doesn’t keep his art from being beautiful, much like the interaction between beauty and functionality of Annette’s pottery.
“There’s all these ideas,” Andrew said of the way he looks at technology and environment, and Annette sees the devaluation and functionality of everyday objects, “but you also want to make beautiful objects.”
For the Roberts-Grays, the road to making beautiful objects has been a long one. After the two met at the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1980s, Andrew “dragged” Annette to New York in 1987.
Annette worked on watercolors, and Andrew landed a job at the Guggenheim Museum, which was just one building then.
Andrew’s arrival at the museum was around the time Thomas Kerns took over as director, with plans to rebuild the Guggenheim on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
“He kind of revolutionized the museum industry,” Andrew said.
“I arrived there at a really opportune moment,” he said. The museum had few employees, but wanted to grow.
Soon the Guggenheim was sending its collection out all over the world, with Andrew charged with installation. He traveled to Shanghai, Seoul, New Zealand and Spain installing traveling exhibits.
“There weren’t very many people there, so I just got saddled with these giant projects,” he said.
The Roberts-Grays stayed in New York until their son reached school age in 1993, when they moved back to Glenwood Springs, where Annette had lived in the early ’80s. Now, not having lived in New York for more than 10 years, their time there still influences the Roberts-Grays.
Andrew handled great pieces of art everyday, and both he and Annette had free passes to any of New York’s museums.
“I’m sure it’s influenced how we see art and what we’re trying to do,” Andrew said.
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