Recently Tidewater Women’s Fran Ward spoke with Roberley Bell, who’s as bubbly as the brightly-colored “blobs” she created for an indoor/outdoor exhibition for the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk.
TW: Good morning, Roberley, I love your art! Your website is filled with vibrant images. I believe that art is a reflection of the artist herself, and before even meeting you, I think you are an expression of joy and happiness and whimsy!
RB (laughing): It will be interesting when we meet in person what you think!
TW: My first question is, “Who are you?”
RB: When I give a slide show, I show a picture of my gardens and a picture of my feet somewhere in the world. I’m a gardener, a teacher (a university professor), and a traveler. All those things make up who I am as a person. Artists bring all the facets of their lives into the studio. Being a traveler and a gardener influences my art and shapes my critical thinking.
TW: I have a doctorate in metaphysics, and I believe looking at your art that you are a metaphysician as well.
RW: Now I’m going to ask you a question. What do you mean by that? How are you applying that interpretation to my art?
TW: According to Wikipedia, metaphysics is a philosophy explaining the nature of being and the world that encompasses it. Metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions. What is there? What is it like?
RB: Art in general is experiential. My art, in particular, is experiential. Ad Reinhardt, the painter, said, “Art is art. Everything else is everything else.” I do a lot of public projects. There’s a big difference between working in a gallery and working on a public project. There is involvement with the community. I make sculpture. One question was “Does that make it art?” Or “Does that make it design?” Does it matter? We can get bogged down. The ability to interpret what is art in the broadest sense is a person’s own experience with it.
TW: You state that you “reconsider what is real against what is not, to the point where even nature itself is uncertain.” Questioning reality is definitely metaphysical. You use a lot of windows in your art. Windows are often a metaphor for looking beyond “here” and into “there” into other realities.
RB: Windows are important to me. They are a framing devise in art and landscaping.
TW: One of your public projects has many windows.
RB: Yes. “Paradise ready made” in Kaliningrad, Russia, a mid-19th century fortification, incorporated flowers and art. The museum displayed flowers in every window “The Night of the Museum.” The potted plants were given away to members of the community the next day. The museum curator wrote: “The project didn’t only involve the viewers in the process of creating a work of art, but also let them feel emotional interactions with the world of nature, which are so wrongly forgotten, lost and erased by events of daily hectic life.”
TW: Roberley, you touch our hearts by touching that community. This project at the Hermitage in Norfolk likewise sounds like a paradise of art and communication between what is inside the museum and what is outside in the gardens.
RB: Yes, this project has been two years in the making. I make individual elements and combine them into the installations. What I envision and the final reality are often different. I start with an idea. That changes as landscapes change as I extend the artwork to interact and connect with the environment.
TW: I always like to ask, “What Is your first memory?”
RB: We lived all over the world. My father was with the government. When I was 6 or 7, we were getting ready to move from this country. I had a Curious George idea that we would arrive by boat in the jungle. We arrived to Bogota, Colombia. It was a huge city!
TW: Just like your installations. You pre-conceive them, but there may be surprises. My last question is, “What would you like the readers of Tidewater Women to know?
RB: That art is open to interpretation. A person approaches art from a personal perspective. My art can be considered from many levels. Come to the Hermitage and see what you experience for yourself. See what is inside and outside in the natural and [un]natural landscape.
Roberley Bell’s [un]natural landscapes • Opening Party September 3, 2015, 6-9 p.m. • On exhibit September 4 through December 7, 2015 • Hermitage Museum & Gardens, 7637 North Shore Rd. • 757-423-2052 • thehermitagemuseum.org ($)
For more information on the artists, visit roberleybell.com