Gail Roberts: “Entanglement”
at the Carnegie Art Museum
Article taken from magazine, Art Ltd – March/April 2012 edition
Gail Roberts is a representational painter of great skill and subtlety who employs her considerably facility with the brush to probe the limits and boundaries of painting’s traditional genres. In this show of mostly quite large still lifes (from 40 by 40 inches to as big as 68 by 72 inches), Roberts uses two seemingly un- related objects—birds’ nests and books—to convey a playful, slightly dark sense of wonder at the interpenetration of nature and culture in the urban parts of southern California. Roberts has been collecting and painting nests since at least 2004, but the introduction of the books, which she often groups by theme or title, injects a semiotic element that pulls the work further in the direction of Surrealism. The words these books carry complicate her images in interesting ways and engage the viewer in the process of constructing the works’ meaning. The marvelous and suggestive One Flew Over shows a stack of three books—”One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”—supporting a particularly expressive and joyous example of a freeform nest. As in many of the images in the series, the whole stack of things floats somehow on a beautifully rendered reflective liquid surface.
The Carnegie Art Museum has done an excellent job installing the show, and the second floor gallery, where the larger pictures are hanging, makes an especially strong statement. These giant canvases with their supersized, exuberant nests appear nearly three dimensional, and the intricate weave of their materials lends a certain frisson to the recognition of such familiar sources as tattered newsprint, bits of shopping bag, and dryer lint. In addition to demonstrating a ravishing command of scale and detail, Roberts comes across as an enigmatic and independent thinker whose work challenges assumptions even as it pleases the senses. With “Entanglement,” Gail Roberts has built a new kind of nest in the Carnegie, woven with patience and tenderness, but built out of surprising, even jarring fragments of disparate worlds.