son Ray Roberts paints the California landscape
is squinting as he stands near his portable easel on a sun-drenched
November morning. He's eyeing the light as it illuminates the Glenmore
Plaza Hotel, a lemon-yellow Victorian structure situated near the
center of picturesque Catalina Island, just off the coast of California.
Roberts is a guest artist at the annual Plein Air Painters of America
show and sale. He's one of 30 artists who are visiting here for
a week to paint scenes ranging from the bustling Avalon harbor to
the rugged island interior where buffalo roam. On this day, Roberts
is painting one of his last works for the weekend's grand finale-a
show opening the following night at the historic Casino building.
Ray Roberts, Joe's Horse, Oil on Board, 12" x 16"
The plein-air event draws painters from across the country, but
Roberts is a native California son. Born in Santa Monica, he grew
up in Tustin near Laguna Beach. "I remember a time when Southern
California used to resemble Catalina's Shark Harbor," he says,
referring to the island's remote, unspoiled harbor.
As a boy, Roberts says, he played in the undeveloped hills and canyons
near his home. "That was before freeways and sprawling residential
development," he says. "It was a time before everyone
put up fences and walls."
Today, more than three decades later, Roberts is fond of capturing
what remains of the magnificent, vanishing landscapes across the
Golden State. And at 47, he is gaining increasing recognition for
his efforts, winning a string of awards at various competitions
around the country.
Ray Roberts, Matriarck, Oil on Canvas, 20" x 24"
As a member of the California Art Club, Roberts is currently featured
in a show called Scenes of the Pacific at the club's gallery in
San Marino. It includes works by 10 painters who offer interpretations
of California's coastline and ocean. Each artist focuses on a particular
aspect of the area where the sky meets the sea; Roberts' paintings
portray the various ways the bright light from the setting sun plays
on dark waters. "I like to capture the last bit of sun as it
casts shadows-the fleeting light on the water," he says. Sunset
Pacific is a good example.
Roberts finds a continuing source of inspiration in Southern California's
golden light-the same light that attracted his painterly predecessors
Hanson Puthuff and William Wendt to the area. Both Puthuff and Wendt
were founding members of the California Art Club, which was established
While Roberts continues to admire such early Southern California
impressionists, he also looks to painters like William Ritschel
for inspiration. Ritschel was a German artist who settled in Carmel,
CA, in 1911 and became known for his seascapes. "I'm trying
to achieve that same luminosity that Puthuff, Ritschel, and Dixon
accomplished," he says.
Ray Roberts, Saguaro, Oil on Board, 20" x 16"
Roberts has left California twice, living for a time in Arizona,
but ultimately he returned home. "I missed the golden light
in California. It's one of the reasons I keep coming back here,"
he says. "Coastal mountains trap in the moisture from the ocean
and the result is a glow, a beautiful golden light that is unique
to the area."
These days he lives with his wife, painter Peggi Kroll Roberts,
and their three children in the foothills of the Sierras, about
an hour from Yosemite National Park. The landscape surrounding his
home is sprinkled with grand oak trees and rolling hills, both of
which he frequently paints.
Roberts also frequents the nearby high desert area on the eastern
slope of the Sierras during his plein-air painting forays. "There's
lots of rocks, sage, and beat-up aspen trees," he says. "It's
dry, windy, and desolate, and they shoot a lot of alien planet scenes
for the movies there."
Ray Roberts, Mesa Solitude, Oil on Canvas, 24" x 30"
It was during his Arizona years that Roberts developed his affection
for scrubby desert terrain. "The bright, harsh light on the
desert creates striking graphic shapes," he says. "It's
what Maynard Dixon captured."
While Roberts is comfortably ensconced in his painting career today,
he explains that things haven't always been this way. After graduating
from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, he worked
as an illustrator for 15 years. Although he was unhappy with his
career choice, he lacked the confidence to pursue his dream-a riskier
career in fine art. "I was an artist in denial," Roberts
says half-jokingly. "I thought illustration was a more responsible
way to be an adult, but then slowly I began to see fine artists
like Clyde Aspevig and Kevin Macpherson being willing to take the
risk and succeeding."
He began painting in earnest in his spare time as well as taking
classes from Len Chmiel and Mark Daily. By 1992 Roberts was selling
enough of his own works to feel comfortable leaving his illustration
career behind. He has no regrets.
As for the future, Roberts explains that his mission is to continue
to grow as an artist. "I'm on an unfolding path, and I want
to let myself evolve into a more honest and intuitive artist,"
Roberts says. "My goal is to reveal more of myself. Hopefully
that will be evident in my art."
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