We have no need of other worlds.

We need mirrors.

We don’t know what to do with other worlds.

— Stanisław Lem

Roberta Gentry, Installation View. We Need Mirrors, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and LADIES’ ROOM. 
Roberta Gentry, Installation View. We Need Mirrors, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and LADIES’ ROOM. 

With the recent Roberta Gentry show We Need Mirrors at LADIES’ ROOM we were able to see her perfectionist vision of shape, dimension, color, and light. Her intricate pieces greatly inspired by the works of Stanisław Lem’s Solaris, a book which followed a crew of scientists on a research station on their mission to understand an extraterrestrial intelligence. Her paintings merge the primordial with futurism into an overall existential presentation of what life could be and is. The symmetry and paint practices are greatly informed by Agnes Martin, exploring order and humanity. Geometry reigns supreme in her world of deco and pomo angles which as us all. We got to know the artist’s chatting up on the process of discipline, Arizona’s landscape, and finding comfort in David Lynch’s weather reports.

Roberta Gentry, Hold, 2020, Acrylic on canvas, 48×36

What’s your daily routine? 

Depends on the day! On studio days I start working in the morning around 9 or 10 and typically finish around 7pm. I set a goal for each day that I’m in the studio so that I don’t just fumble around or waste time not knowing what to do. 

 

When did you realize you wanted to be a painter?

Probably when I was in high school. I found a lot of relief from teenage angst in painting, it was the way that I could best express things I didn’t have language for. 

 

Which artist do you think is most misunderstood? 

I’m not sure if any artist can be misunderstood, since the experience of art is subjective, and the artist really has no control over how their work is understood by others. That being said, I think had some form of misunderstanding for Agnes Martin for a long time. In grad school I decided I didn’t like her work because of the way she writes about it, which is ridiculous looking back. I loved the experience of looking at it but reading her writing about her work was such a different thing. She’s one of my favorite painters now, but it’s always made me slightly wary of using too much language to describe painting. 

Roberta Gentry, Installation View. We Need Mirrors, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and LADIES’ ROOM. 
Roberta Gentry, Installation View. We Need Mirrors, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and LADIES’ ROOM. 

Have you always been drawn to these hard-edge geometric patterns, or is this a more recent direction? 

The hard-edged work started in grad school, along with a fascination with symbols, crystallography, furniture meant for displaying collections, and cutaway diagrams. Previous work was about landscape and the layering of the earth and was definitely not hard-edge. I enjoy organizing chaos, and clean lines allow me to make distinct separations across the canvas.

 

Arizona and its picturesque deserts have often been sanctuaries for artists. How did that space influence your practice, if at all?

I think that the landscape I grew up in, which was high desert miles from the nearest paved road, definitely influenced the person I am. A fascination with the order and efficiency of nature, along with its infinite complexity, is something that has stayed with me. And I think learning how to be okay with isolation is pretty useful as an artist.  

Roberta Gentry, Perch, 2020, Acrylic on Canvas, 18×14 inches

Before you begin a canvas, are your kaleidoscopic shapes, shades and colors preordained, or do you improvise your compositions?

Yes! I plan it all out in a series of small drawings before I start. I begin with the central structure, and then create an environment for it to live in. Then I decide where the lights and darks are, and finally the general color scheme. There are always surprises no matter how well you plan, however, and it’s still exciting to see what they end up looking like in the flesh. 

How might the end of 2020 and birth of 2021 inform your work going forward?

I don’t think anyone has totally escaped the changes that this year has brought. I’ve been watching David Lynch’s weather reports, they’re really comforting. He says this a period of transformation and I find that really hopeful. I plan on continuing to allow the work to evolve and grow, making small improvements and experiments and learning from them. Everything has to move at its own pace, and I hope after this year we can collectively claim a bit more patience at least. 

Roberta Gentry, Installation View. We Need Mirrors, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and LADIES’ ROOM. 

Photographed by Paloma Dooley.

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