From our friends at Glasstire, today we bring you a review of Deborah Roberts’ current solo show at Art Palace in Houston, Texas. Author Betsy Huete notes, “To make political work without literally telling the viewer how he should think or feel is a tall order, yet Roberts pulls it off masterfully by intertwining the personal with the ideological. She infuses her work with subtle yet powerful empathy that is just as ferocious as it is vulnerable.” This article was originally published on November 29, 2014.
With the exception of one misstep, One and Many, Deborah Roberts’ current solo show at Art Palace, is raw, painful, beautiful, grotesque, vulnerable, and vicious. The first line of her handout quotes James A. Baldwin: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” Roberts carries on her shoulders the Post-Black ideologies that she grapples with. Through paint, collage, and sculpture, she is locating herself within three histories she has inherited—of being black, of being a woman, and of being an artist working within the largely white, chauvinistic modernist vocabulary of photocollage and abstract painting.
The most compelling of several fourteen- by eleven-inch collages is Untitled No. 33. A black woman’s face appears halfway down the paper, a face that has been crudely sliced off at the neck and forehead. Roberts cracks open the woman’s skull, exposing the private thoughts residing in her head without her permission, and it shows. The woman stares at us head-on, her eyes emanating a complex mixture of defiance, sadness, and disgust. Three lab monkeys with red-tipped party hats pop out of her head, screaming. Roberts has replaced the woman’s body with a blind contour drawing in pencil. With disproportionate shoulders and fumbling cleavage, the body Roberts has given her is drawn in a way that is curiously investigative and abject. The pencil drawing may at first seem hurried and dismissive, but it is as important as the monkeys, which are visually more pronounced. The woman’s face and screaming monkeys blare anger at full volume, but the quiet body replenishes the work with a kind of self-deprecation and uncertainty. It’s the anchor that keeps it multi-dimensional, and prevents it from becoming overly didactic.