The figures in Danielle Roberts’ paintings often look stuck and emotionless, like freshly turned walking dead constantly hovering over banal landscapes, yet they are inextricably linked to each other and in motion. Strangely suspended between connectivity and disconnection they speak directly to this omnipresent tension.
I happened to visit her solo exhibition, “Evening All Day”, at Fredericks and Freiser on a Thursday gallery night in Chelsea. The sharp contrast between the bubbly conversing crowd at the opening and the zombie-looking figures in the painting immediately drew me in. I could not help but grin as I found myself standing at the crossroads between interior and exterior realities.
“Tethered, Above the Streets Between the Lights” depicts three friends gathered on a rooftop, one gazing at their screen and another simply at nothing. While more solo folks scatter further in the depths of the picture plane blending with window lights. The well-balanced composition and the mesmerizing cityscape imbue these isolated souls with a sense of serenity and togetherness. The work gently collapses oppositions: loneliness and connection, individual and collective, dark and light.
Roberts’ works address the psychological states of a generation. Not in a Freudian sense that centers trauma, nor disorder in clinical terms, but collective loneliness and genuine detachment. Comfortingly she reveals that these concepts are not internal nor an individualistic pathos, but collectively relatable.
Robert’s bold chiaroscuro is addictive to look at. It sets the scene in motion and transports us into a psycholandscape that is constantly in flux. The effect reminds me more of a Velázquez than a sharp Caravaggio as lights bounce across the canvas, emanating unexpectedly from area to area. In “The Sky Weighs Heavy Through the Night,“ the Pegasus shines like a magical vane that moves the sky. Darkness is present but colors reign. A glowing blue breeze passes through friends and lovers coalescing in bright coral. As my eyes move, the fragmented figures slowly sync.
The theatrical use of color and light summons a mystical force. In “Fast Food for a Long Wait,” you can feel yourself sitting in the back seat of a car. Both guys in the front seats are looking right at you. Although it might be a ride without a destination, we still take it. A fluorescent green hue glosses over each silhouette creating a strange yet warm transitory haze. I feel a similar tension between presence and absence in “Night Swim.” A girl crawls out of the pool while another sits behind her. A dark violet mist collides with luminescent cyan, creeping upon their hair and bodies. A master in holding dualities, Roberts’ figures both look like they are on the brink of dissipating, yet are strongly anchored to each other.
Synergy is perhaps best conveyed in Roberts’ duo paintings, in which a captivating harmony and charm are set up between two figures. Roberts uses large amounts of vertical and horizontal lines to create a soothing texture to blend the boundaries between bodies on the canvas. In “Sleepless,” a couple is delineated from each other through interlaced lines. The man’s fingers reach into the woman’s hair, melding into one. “First Light” portrays a resting couple in bed. Their bodies intertwined, immersed in a calming dark blue-violet. Have they been up all night? What are they thinking? Does it matter?
Another duo curls on the couch snow drizzling outside (“Snow Day”). From a distance, their bodies cross like an infinity symbol. The contrast between the luminous saffron and dark patches of hues arouses a psychedelic aura. The man’s arm is completely fused with the women’s leg, evoking a sensual distortion. Nothing is stable now. Their bodies twist the space and it’s a process; first dissolving, then flowing to the other.
This process is a recurring motif in Roberts’ works. Her broken and fragile figures are dissected into geometric shapes and strips. Such disspation also set them free. And here we are, the witnesses of the process of becoming.
Oftentimes, psychological expressions in art can be self-caging and indulging. In “Evening All Day” Roberts takes another path, shifting away from the ‘self’ to a larger force with an emphasis on the nature of change and transformation. Most poignantly, however, is how she weaves fragments of isolated figures and lights into points of interconnection. I find relief there.