CONVERSATION WITH CYNTHIS ROBERTS NEW YORK, NEW YORK
Roberts is a young, New York-based artist. She had her first one-person
exhibition, in January of 99 at Tricia Collins Contemporary Art
in SoHo. Her show consisted of several large canvases depticting weeping
and/or laughing horses, rendered with splashes of pastel colors and inky
black and blue hues. She also displayed several small horse-head sculptures
constructed out of papier-maché, clay, and found objects. Trying
to discover some insight direct from the horses mouth, so to speak,
I had a chance to interview Cynthia this fall and ask her questions about
Layla Lozano: How do you explain your work to people who may be viewing
it for the first time?
Cynthia Roberts: My work is about the dynamic coexistence of conflicting
LL: How long have you been using images of this horse? Can you remember
when they first came into being?
CR: About a year and a half ago, I became inspired by a photo of an equestrian
monument in Italy for Can Grande della Scalaspecifically, by the
face of his horse. The horses face was covered with medieval armament
so the eyes were exaggerated, the head adorned, and the sheath of his
nose made hygenic in this sculpture. It was an image I couldnt shake.
I kept making it and making it, and I keep making it, in some form today.
From that point of interaction with this particular horse image, I began
to seek out other horse sourcesto mine the empathy that
I think this creature possesses, or appears to possess. Or sadness. Or
nobility. All the horses are different. Ive gone to the police stables
in New York Citythey appear very militant; even the stable is extremely
ordered and each horse tall and strongthey seem organized and commanding.
LL: Your first show, titled Can Grande and Others, focused
on images of a horse. Can you tell me about the horse? How important is
Can Grande to your work still?
CR: Can Grande was essential to me. I unburdened myself of something by
using this image. I thought that in order for something to be abstract,
it had to look abstract. But, the way in which we use a thing defines
how its perceived. Like in poetry when ee cummings writes whose
universe a single leaf may be or when Rilke writes of green birds
falling through intimate space(or more on the humorous side, Shakespeare,
whose works are studded with words transforming meaning) when these poets
write, the words they use are like vectors, from one point in time to
another. The transmission from intent to impact on a reader/viewer, is
a time (process) of accretion where all the possibility of a word-construct
is loaded up by the poet and all the memories and knowledge of the listener
are brought to a moment of impact. In my case, I thought I was using this
image of a horse or Can Grande to leap from abstraction into an abstracted
reality where states of the mind are conveyed by absurd horses in purple
or blue, sometimes sobbing from their cartoon heads, with a vine and flowers
growing out of the ear or mouth, or in some cases with a kind of prison
or vault engraved onto the horses forehead. It seems to me now that
there was no leap from abstraction, but instead, abstractions wordlessness,
a quality akin to that of a mind-object, was transferred to a thing (here,
the horse), and that I am using the idea of the thing to convey a state.
LL: I know that during this past year you have made several visits to
places such as some stables out in Brooklyn and you even went on a short
visit to Kentucky. Have these adventures affected your work at all? It
seems to me that your art has gotten greener, if that makes any sense
. . .
CR: Maybe there are seasons in the making of art; emotional seasons. I
think investigation into any new image or language of imagery, the expansion
of the field brings new dimensions to it. Seeing live horsesthe
horses before dawn exercising out at Turfway Park in Kentucky, when its
still pre-dawn and you can mostly just hear their lungs as they run, or
the ones in Brooklyn that are locked up so much, walking on shitty pavement,
or worse, the Central Park ones standing on three hooves at a timeit
all brings another level of experience, emotionality to transfer into
and out of these images.LL: Were you always using animal images?
CR: After working in pure abstraction for some time, I had begun to create
kind of creaturesat first kind of sad cartoons dissolving into the
structure of the paintingthen these one-eyed birdsbird cyclops,
always falling upside downnot flying, falling, staring out at you
with a crazy linear scribbled eye. These started to get at what the Can
Grande horses do, but perhaps walked too much in that in-between: I needed
something that would stare you down, make you sad or happy, or like one
guy said, I feel like I have to ask this horse if hes really
a horseI make no assumptionshe might just be horse-ness.
LL: What about your sculptures . . . you exhibited several of them this
winter. How do they transmit your ideas differently that your paintings?
Are you still working in sculpture?
CR: I made the sculptures initially to have some company in the studio.
Also, to really get a feeling of the head I was painting. There was something
really corporeal about this kind of sculpture that is undeniable. I keep
making them, but it seems there is like a laying time for them; I cant
always make thesethey come out when they come out, and usually in
a group . . . I also have an idea for a field of horseflowers
based on some metal work Ive been doingin silvery steelusing
this combined flower/horse imagethat people can walk through, participate
in . . .
LL: When describing your work, Ive often heard people mentioning
the words humorous and pathos in the same sentence
. . . how do you think you combine these two feelings in one work of art?
CR: I think thats the complexity of it all. Thats the same
complexity of life. I admire artists like Bruce Nauman, and later Phillip
Guston, whose works seem to capture that horror and humour all at once.
If everyone did accurate self-portraits everyone would have horrifying
and funny works.
LL: What do you think is in us that makes us react almost affectionately
when we see images like this? Things like this seem to bring out a certain
sentimentality out of humans. Not unlike that story The Velveteen Rabbit
. . .
CR: I think one of the powers of painting, one of the unavoidable powers
of painting, is to inspire memories or sensations in people. Beyond Jungs
notion of a common, or universality to our collective memory, each individual
is a compendium of experiences. I remember one very poised and beautiful
woman stopping in front of my sculptures and sighing, Oh,
she said, this one looks like the giraffe I used to visit in the
zoo as a little girl. I love giraffes. I can only guess that what
gets people is a form of empathy the work sends out. If its a kind
empathy or an empathy of understanding, acceptance, I guess thats
okay . . .
New York, New York