Gwen Roberts – Artist

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Having recently moved to Port Macquarie from the UK, our area has certainly gained a phenomenal artistic talent in Gwen Roberts. Gwen’s work is simply beautiful – amazingly detailed, but also unique and thought provoking

Hi Gwen. Where are you from originally, and what brought you to Port Macquarie?

I was born and bred in Leicestershire, England. Six years ago I met my husband, who is a “Pozzie” (a little bit Pommie/a little bit Aussie). He was born in Adelaide and moved to the UK when he was young. He told me he wanted to return home and before he could finish the sentence, I had my bags packed. We moved to Australia early this year.

Living in Port Macquarie was my idea. I researched Australia and fell in love with Port Macquarie.

Where did your artistic streak begin – did you develop a love for drawing early in life, and how have you nurtured your talent over the years?
Artistic flair cannot be acquired; you’re born with it. Most artists will confess they were always drawing as a child, and the same is true in my case. However, I wasn’t interested in drawing cartoons like most other kids I knew. I naturally drew to a high standard, and my drawings had maturity at an early age. I have been using the same techniques ever since I can remember.

What formal art training/study have you done?
I am pretty much self-taught. I followed the norm. I studied art and music at college. After my studies, I took up a career in finance. However, throughout a successful career, I always felt unfulfilled. Two years ago I came to the end of a contractual role, and I followed my instincts to draw. It had been 20 years since I picked up a pencil. The passion was stronger than ever. I could never draw in my spare time; it had to be all or nothing. I give 100% in every piece I produce. For me, it’s all consuming. It was a natural step and the right time in my life to undertake a course of full-time study at degree level at Winchester School of Art, England.

You describe your art as photorealistic. What does this term mean, for those of us who may not have much knowledge of various art forms?
Photorealism is a style of drawing or painting where the work is so accurately reproduced, it resembles the photograph on which it was based. It was a movement that started in America in the ‘60s and ‘70s and is now having a renaissance.

However, it is not my intention to fool the viewer into thinking that they are looking at a photograph. This could be viewed as contradictory; however, “Photorealism” helps me to project my ideas.

Unlike a photograph, my work is a translation, not a replication. My work is based on fact and visual evidence. A drawing is not a mechanical recreation. I like the notion of it being handmade. It includes the originality of the artist.

What media do you most like to work with?
I work with a 2b and a 9b pencil, a mechanical eraser and I work on Bristol paper, which is very smooth and enables me to get fine detail.

The level of accuracy takes weeks, if not months, to complete a piece of work. I have a lot of ideas for my graphite work in the pipeline. I’d like to turn my attention to painting at some point.

How do you complete your portraits – do you work from photos, or use live sitters?
In my opinion, photographs are works of art. I incorporate this concept and use photography as a tool and a springboard for my ideas. I take a photograph a step further to translate what I have observed and then play around with it. I may add something, change something, or eliminate something to convey a story or the character of the subject.

Your work shows such attention to detail. What are you hoping to achieve/convey to the viewer each time you start a new piece of work?
My work explores the concept of recognition and preconceptions, identifying the key   elements that enable us to instantly recognise something or someone and taking closer inspection of other significant areas.

My objective is to amplify the aspects that might not instantly be observed.

What you see isn’t always what you get, and my photorealistic style enables me to project this concept. I focus on components: construction, surface, textures and light.

In conjunction with this, my work asks questions of the viewer’s preconceived impressions of the subject matter by changing, removing or adding a component and redirecting the focus to other constitutional areas. For example, I have recently completed a portrait of Marilyn Monroe with dark hair, and I have drawn Kate Middleton with dreadlocks.

My work is a representation of the subject in its natural form. I play around with our preconceived notions and ask questions of how we make judgments. Take for example a drawing I’ve done of a baby with a tattoo: Cupid and Psyche. The child has the same tattoo as one on David Beckham’s left arm, which is a painting by Francesco Francia.

What most inspires you? What fires your creativity?
I have many art crushes. Australia’s own Robin Eley is one of them.

For me, there is always an emotional connection to the subject of my art. It may relate to a memory, an experience, a notion, or a belief. Inspiration can come from anywhere; the challenge is to recognise it.

Art originates from the personal perspective of the artist. I get emotionally attached to my work. At conception I have intimate ownership; when the piece is finished I have to go through a process of “letting go”.

Since living in Australia, recent work has gained an antipodean influence. I’m fascinated with Australian history. The stories of Gwoya Jungarai (“One Pound Jimmy”), the first Aboriginal to be featured on a stamp, and Phar Lap, the famous racehorse, have both inspired recent pieces.

Where can we view samples of your artwork?
My work is available to view at the Sunset Gallery, where I will be doing a live demo on 7th July, and at Long Point Gallery throughout October and November 2015. To keep up to date on my exhibitions, demos and artist talks, read more information or just look at my work, visit my Facebook page:

Alternatively, email me: to be kept up to date.

Are readers able to commission you for work?
Certainly. Please email me or contact me through my Facebook page. I am also looking for models of all ages. If readers are interested in sitting for me, please get in touch.

Thanks Gwen. Interview by Jo Atkins.

This article was from issue 116 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus.

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