Portrait of an Artist

Cameron Byron Roberts, Painter

About three years ago, Cameron Byron Roberts (a.k.a. Cam) and I cooked up an idea for a process-oriented group for late-blooming artist types like us.

The inspiration came from an article Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, Blink, etc.) wrote for The New Yorker in which he differentiated between people who, early on, know what they want to do and are recognized for it at a young age (think Mozart and Picasso) and those who, much later, reach their creative heights through a trial-and-error process. The late bloomers at first produce work no more promising than artists who never create much at all (think early Cézanne), and Gladwell pointed out that without support, most late bloomers never bloom at all.

So we became our own late-bloomer supports, and we’ve been helping each other bloom for the past three years. We share our frustrations, respond to the words of artists and writers we find wiser than ourselves, encourage each other in our efforts, celebrate our triumphs, provide accountability, and in general strive to give to each other what late bloomers need to thrive.

During this three-year period, I finished a book, others have advanced in their respective arts, and Cam became not only a proficient painter, but a professional.

You can find Cam here:

And now, some words from Cam about his history as an artist and his artistic process.

Ken Robinson, the great education guru, tells a story about asking first graders, “who is an artist?” where all the hands go up. By third grade only a few hands go up, and by fifth grade there are few hands remaining.

As one of those kids that always wanted to be an artist, I used to draw on anything, including the walls of my room, and sometimes the newly painted bookshelves in the living room, finding the “bank canvas” irresistible, until being informed they were not canvases.

However, like many kids, I came from a family that viewed art, if not suspiciously, not as a serious endeavor. Instead I was encouraged to be an architect, something more useful, and more employable, and after many years of resisting the suggestion, I enrolled in architecture school and eventually became a licensed architect.

For most of my career I felt somewhat removed from the profession, alienated from its underlying premise that the new was somehow going to be better than the old, its futurism and utopianism seeming messianic and egotistical, somehow.

The exception was my opportunity to work as an apprentice for the architect, Frank O. Gehry at a point in his career when he was transitioning from being a successful commercial architect to being a world renowned “starchitect” famous for, among other things, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain.

Our relationship blossomed one day when I mentioned that something he was asking me to work on reminded me of a sculpture by the artist Michael Heiser, who, as it turned out, was a close friend of his. Frank was and remains an artist, with his closest friends being artists, and his work being derived artistically. That early experience with Frank was unique and not to be replicated again.

Fast forward several decades: After teaching design and theory at Harvard, MIT and RISD, years as a consulting architect, corporate architect, several in the investment business, and consulting as a capital project manager, I took up painting in 2010.

My inspiration for taking the step came from Susan Langer’s On Becoming an Artist. This gave me the confidence to experience art-making as mindfulness and not be overly concerned about the outcome. Here’s my first painting, on May 2, 2010.

Years later, a re-reading by David Bookbinder of Steven Pressfield’s War of Art in the Artist Group we formed convinced me that it was time to take the outcome seriously. Some recent paintings appear below. There have been innumerable bad paintings and good paintings in between these and that first one, but I now understand the imperative of painting as a means of reconciling myself with existence, reconnecting to the present, and I feel at last that I have indeed become an artist.

Artist Statement (in progress)

Longing and memory, landscape remains ancient and newborn. Conditions evoke primal responses; the back-lit hedge wall, the deep, dark leaves of late summer, fall approaching, winter’s dusk, the sudden damp cold, anticipation of a warm fire, the quiet loneliness of childhood exploring the thicket, first light, dizzying mid-day, timeless afternoon, chiaroscuro evening, the churning majesty of the sea, the shelter of the rocks and the step into the unreturnable deep.

Interiorizing the landscape through painting, setting a point of view, making a clearing in the forest, a shelter in the thicket, or in the cave – that’s what my work as a landscape painter is about.

Book News: In my ongoing effort to climb the self-publishing hill, I’m experimenting with price management. I’ve dropped the price of my eBook Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas to $4.99 on Amazon. You can download it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NAAFU3S

The compact edition, Paths to Wholeness: Selections is still free, here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N1NV2MA

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