Silly, yet serious, art

BY HANNA ROSMAN | MARCH 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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For Michael Roberts, art runs in the family.

“I come from a family of seven boys, but my mother always gave us paper to sit and draw something,” Roberts said.

His artwork is displayed for purchase at the Iowa Artisans Gallery, 207 E. Washington St., in an edgy exhibit displaying his rubber stamps as well as his drawings. The exhibit will run through April 18 during regular business hours.

The 62-year-old took to drawing in his youth, in part because people thought he was good at it. He received an M.A. and M.F.A. in art from the UI, where he met the woman whom he married, and they settled in Iowa City rather than the city he grew up in, San Diego.

“I miss the beach, but it’s a much better lifestyle [in Iowa],” he said.

Two of Roberts’ brothers have also made a career in art, but he is the only one who draws and paints.

For him, painting is a laborious activity that takes a long time to complete. Often, he will work on numerous projects at a time, and it will take him two to three months to finish a piece. He works out the ideas and elements of a piece by sketching them out on paper before taking them to the canvas.

“I do hundreds of drawings a year and only a few paintings,” Roberts said.

He also carves rubber stamps, a medium in which he began honing his skills after receiving a Christmas present of the items. His first attempts were hit-and-miss, but over seven years, he has mastered his approach.

“You kind of see the potential of something as you carve,” Roberts said.

He considers his subject matter to be “left up to interpretation,” and he includes little hints within his work to guide the way. Occasionally, he will use recognizable characters. He also utilizes the living shadow as its own personality to twist reality.

“This type of show is good for art students,” said Astrid Bennett, an artist at the Iowa Artisans Gallery. “He is a wonderful artist when it comes to visualizing.”

She views Roberts’ work as remarkable because of the realism he uses. This technique is often offset by surrealistic concepts and a fine use of detail in his stamp carvings. She said Roberts delves deeply into many thoughts and styles, which produces a plethora of content for the viewer to interpret.

“He uses it in service of his ideas,” Bennett said. “He conveys ideas that range from silly to serious.”

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