Perry Roberts isn’t finished – especially with his own oeuvre. In his latest exhibition at Gallery Sofie Van de Velde, he confronts his own artistic past. Though he comes from a post- minimalist tradition, Roberts today employs a rather different voice.
‘Non finito’ is a Renaissance-era concept: leaving paintings and sculptures unfinished results in a highly specific aesthetic. Roberts re-interprets this technique and makes it his own. Left with a certain amount of discarded fabrics after renovating some earlier works, an idea took shape which he gradually developed into the highly singular technique of cutting strips and scraps from different materials, and combining them, first by glueing on small scale, then later by sewing. In this way he reacquainted himself with the aesthetic qualities of the linens, and canvas. Carefully fixed to each other and processed with a variety of paint and colour types, they complement each other literally and figuratively speaking. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Roberts' works mark a departure from the post-minimalist tradition both in shape and in colour. A recurring motif across most of his new works, the diagonal forges a subtle break with the movement's uncompromising, hard-edged rectangles. Roberts exchanges this strict, straight line for a slightly tilted movement that nonetheless does not dominate the work. The diagonal line also draws viewers closer; especially in combination with the natural materials and sombre colours, the presentation is grounded and appeals to viewers with an eye for detail.
Black and white aren't 'real' colours and they are often omitted in minimalism and post-minimalism. As an artist with an inquisitive mind however, Roberts enjoys exploring every gradation of white and every depth of black. The artist avoids dominant emotions with this sober colour palette. His aesthetically accessible works do not give up their secrets readily; they maintain a poetic aura and a certain amount of mystery. Moreover, room is left for ‘mistakes'. Irregularities at the level of colour or material lend the work its authenticity. By sewing together pieces of different materials, he also adds a craft-like quality, a human touch that breaks with the detachment of minimalism and post-
What characterises the art of painting? Not all the new works contain paint – this is Roberts' way of questioning the fundamentals of painting. He looks beyond the surface and investigates the DNA of the canvas at a more profound level; he unveils the underlying structures of the painting tradition. The empty canvas, as the basic condition for conventional painting, is ignored and replaced with a new, constructed structure. Out of a 'non-canvas' with 'non-colours', Perry Roberts fashions an 'un-finished' painting.