“IN ALL CAPS,” Acrylic gouache, ink, graphite on panel, 24 x 18 inches, 2020. "IN ALL CAPS," holds a list of phrases from news reports, email, and other sources that were printed in all caps, from spring 2020. Excerpt: “CORONAVIRUS UPDATE, CANCELED, CONFIDENTIAL, . .BREAKING NEWS . .. STAY HOME, SAVE LIVES . . . NO DELIVERY SLOTS AVAILABLE . . .”

Leslie Roberts


Provost, Foundation

My paintings investigate ephemeral language and rule-based abstraction. I compile lists of contemporary vernacular from the flow of information coursing through our lives and across our screens. The lists are artifacts of my social, political, and personal environment; I chart them into pattern-like works that are diagrams of their own making. These intensely chromatic, annotated panels could be called illuminated lexicons of 21st century life.

 INBOX contains a list of subject lines from my August 2020 email: Excerpt: “Register for this week’s training, Minutes from last week’s meeting, Help us reach ten million voters, Social contracts and more . . .”
“INBOX,” Acrylic gouache, graphite, ink on gessoed panel, 12 x 9 inches, 2020. “INBOX” contains a list of subject lines from my August 2020 email: Excerpt: “Register for this week’s training, Minutes from last week’s meeting, Help us reach ten million voters, Social contracts and more . . .”

On slate-like gessoed panels, I hand-print text in columns. Using acrylic gouache, ink, and pencil, I assign a color and mark to each item on a list, then chart letters into lines, shapes, clusters of dots, and layers of wash. The gridded configurations can recall digital code, glyphs, woven textiles, and musical scores.

Fluorescent and non-fluorescent hues combine in chromatically polyphonic structures. My process of cumulative layers reminds me of the layered sound in a Javanese gamelan orchestra. A gamelan begins with one person playing a simple motif over and over; then another joins in, and another, until there’s a dense texture of intricate sound. Yet no musical line is complicated in itself. An accumulation of simple moves: that’s how my paintings are made.

 “(Birds) That are mostly blue: Tree swallow, Indigo bunting, Eastern bluebird, Purple martin . . .”
“BIRDS OF NEW YORK, BY COLOR,” Acrylic gouache, ink, colored pencil, graphite on panel, 24 x 18 inches, 2019. This panel contains a list from a field guide to New York birds. Excerpt: “(Birds) That are mostly blue: Tree swallow, Indigo bunting, Eastern bluebird, Purple martin . . .”

To choose color, no rule or system applies. I work with intuition, or often, against it. The “wrong” color can produce the right visual chemistry. As I add text and encode it, I spend a lot of time looking. When my eye is held for a long time; then I stop.

 “HOW THINGS ARE” contains text messages responding to the query “how are things?” Excerpt: “No easy answers, winging it, a little better today, unsettled, it’s getting unnerving, anxious, so far so good . . .”
“HOW THINGS ARE,” Acrylic gouache, colored pencil, ink, graphite on gessoed panel. 24 x 18 inches, 2019. This panel contains text messages responding to the query “how are things?” Excerpt: “No easy answers, winging it, a little better today, unsettled, it’s getting unnerving, anxious, so far so good . . .”

This work began on small pages of graph paper, 20 years ago. To evade my habits of composition, I began diagramming lists of words. The written and visual results had a crazy logic and irregular beauty that I’ve pursued for two decades.

Some lists document experience: signs and ads seen during a subway trip, or transcripts of text messages. Others are catalogs of language or things: for instance, acronyms, colloquialisms, bird species, or Brooklyn street names. Many lists are rosters of related scraps from disparate sources, such as assorted instructions, guarantees, or news headlines.

 “CANARSIE LOCAL” documents signs and ads seen on a subway trip. Excerpt: “Fourteenth St, Canarsie local, Do not hold doors, Switch and save, Sixth Ave, Limited seating reserve yours today, Emergency instructions, Earn your college degree . . .”
“CANARSIE LOCAL,” Acrylic gouache, ink, graphite on panel, 24 x 18 inches, 2019. This panel documents signs and ads seen on a subway trip. Excerpt: “Fourteenth St, Canarsie local, Do not hold doors, Switch and save, Sixth Ave, Limited seating reserve yours today, Emergency instructions, Earn your college degree . . .”