NEW YORK—As a fine arts painter, Stone Roberts had all the right conditions growing up, including severe myopia as a child. This may seem ironic, but it makes sense given that a hallmark of Robert’s paintings is that everything seems to be in sharp focus, whether the object is in the foreground or background.
“I remember as a child, I had to get up close to everything to see it,” Roberts said. “I remember commenting to my brother after I got glasses, ‘Are you supposed to see everything so clearly?’”
Now, whether he is painting still lifes, elaborate interiors, or figures, this sense of visual clarity is what makes his style simultaneously subtle yet immediate.
“Some photographers, when they see my paintings, … are fascinated and find it beguiling,” Roberts said. “I don’t paint the way a camera would. To me, painting is the act of revealing things through light. My vision is to evoke details with paint without making it feel pedantic.”
Roberts was exposed to painting, music, and the arts growing up in Asheville, N.C., which he describes as “sophisticated and traditional.” But it wasn’t until Roberts studied English and art history at Yale that he realized that art could be a serious career.
“I grew up in a world where people didn’t consider art a viable thing to do. My parents expected me to become a doctor or lawyer,” he said.
Spurred by the precedent of successful figurative artists such as Philip Pearlstein and Leonard Anderson, Roberts changed his major and studied drawing and painting with Yale professor William Bailey. By sticking to his own tastes, he quickly found his own style amid a wide array of possibilities.
“I grew up in a time when there were no limits in the art world,” he said. “There was no one style; you could be very contemporary without abandoning things accomplished in the history of art. I was compelled by the representation of figures and still lifes.”
For Roberts, realism is intriguing and satisfying because it celebrates the sensuality of the three-dimensional world.
“The beauty in painting objects we surround ourselves with everyday is that it elevates the visual experience,” he said. “It allows us to see humble objects like flowers through the attention of painting, and it heightens our experience of life.”
One of his latest masterpieces is an oil-on-linen painting of Grand Central Terminal, 74 by 76 inches. This piece, which took him from 2009 to 2012 to complete, combines his expertise in still art, figures, and interiors into one masterpiece.
Roberts said it would not have been possible without the suggestion of a collector who loves urban subjects. In the painting, the main floor of Grand Central Terminal is filled with bustling travelers, as a golden light streams down from the windows, and a large American flag hangs overhead.
It is so realistic and detailed that one can imagine that it was translated from a single snapshot. But in the way that good writing is born of constant editing, this organic-looking scene was the result of much deliberate planning.
Roberts took hundreds of photos and composed them to best capture the space, types of people, their interactions, and architecture. While it is in a private collection now, it will be on view again at the Museum of the City of New York next year.
All artists begin their training by doing studies of objects using a single light source.
“As I grew as an artist, I started seeing the beauty of all these warm incandescent lamps and contrasting that with the outside light from windows,” he said. “The mix of orange and blue light adds tremendous depth. The interior world is static, but the outside world changes.”
While the beauty of the physical world is plenty compelling for Stone, he’s not so quick to write off artists who use their work to pursue social discussions.
“There’s always going to be a certain group of people interested in contemporary art and a segment who like the new and provoking. I think it’s a valid thing, but it’s not what my art is about. Mine is not a commentary on anything, but a pure expression of creation.
“A lot of painting is a dialogue with culture or a commentary on art. … I think [this approach] shouldn’t be a world apart, but is in America. In Europe, where art history is part of who they are, people are able to enjoy more things. It’s important to see a lot of different things, as long as you know its quality.”
For a traditional-style painter, the quality of a final piece comes from a winning concept, successful composition, and an impeccable execution. To put all these pieces together, one must possess planning skills, strategic thinking, and patience. Robert says that he is lucky to have found a career that suits his detail-oriented personality.
“My process, like writing a novel, built up slowly over a period of time,” he said. “It is like the plot in a novel. It’s open-ended when I start the process, but eventually it must be planned out.”
Right now, Roberts is preparing a couple of large street scenes and still lifes, the staples of his oeuvre.
For more about Stone Roberts, visit www.stoneroberts.com.
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