Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reflections on the Nest Series.

An obvious question to ask about Roger Roberts’ Nest paintings is ‘what do they mean?’ I’m inclined to see them as formalist exercises, rather than as primarily symbolic or representational. That is not to say that these closely observed nests are without meaning beyond their decorative appearance. I think what most clearly distinguishes them from the merely decorative, and what shows they are not just the pastime of a bird lover, is the magnified scale of each depicted nest, and the way it is set in some larger, often much larger, abstract colour space.

So my own direction of interpreting these paintings is formalist. Once an artist has completed a work, however, he cannot expect to control the interpretations other people put on it. At the same time, these interpreters will want to feel that they have insights into the artist’s own true motivations, even if those motivations are unconscious ones. Roger tells the story of how a visitor to his exhibition suggested that the dark interior of the nest in his Nest Series #4 compels a focussing of attention and produces a mandala effect. What makes this interpretation plausible is that, according to Carl Jung’s ideas about such matters, it need not have been any part of Roger’s conscious intention—he need not even have known what a mandala is. Herbert Read, the poet and political anarchist who became one of the most influential art theorists of the twentieth century, tells of a certain “apocalyptic experience” that changed his life. Among many hundreds of children’s drawings that he had collected in his research he came across an image drawn by a five-year-old girl which she had called “Snake around the World and a Boat”. Read was deeply moved when he recognised the circular segmented image to be a mandala—the ancient symbol of psychic unity that is universally found in prehistoric and primitive art, and in all the cultures of history (1). He saw it as proof of his friend Carl Jung’s theories about archetypal imagery. The book Read wrote in 1943 in consequence of this revelation, his Education Through Art, set the course of art education in Britain and Australia in the second half of the twentieth century. The visitor who saw Roger’s nests as mandalic was not wrong, he was only showing Roger how his searching might be guided by senses he doesn’t know are within him.

Such Jungian ideas are not the ones that most immediately come to my mind when I look at Roger Roberts’ Nest paintings, but I do think there is good reason to seek out interpretations that Roger himself may not have consciously thought of. A lifetime of active looking and thinking about imagery are factors that weigh in his decision making. I am inclined to think he is more influenced by twentieth century styles of abstract art than the ornithological naturalism of his images would lead one to expect. Each new painting involves choices that are only partly directed by its subject—i.e. the contingencies of each new-found nest. The paintings range between the naturalism of a seventeenth century Dutch still life, and a kind of abstraction reminiscent of an Adolph Gottlieb. In the most extreme abstractions the background is a field of colour with no hint of cast shadow; the distance is not so much infinite as it is indeterminate. In these works, too, there is no sense of orientation; perhaps we are looking down on the nest from above, but there is really no up, down, or sideways remaining in the abstract space of the painting. In these most abstract works the format is square and the nest is centrally placed. In the still life versions the format may be rectangular, the nest may be off-centre and it is seen obliquely, casting its shadow on the field of colour. In these paintings we can the nest as having weight, and we are given a sense of the physical forces that will cause it to disintegrate. The interwoven twigs and debris of the carefully observed nests are reminiscent of the overlapping skeins of dribbled paint in a Jackson Pollock. With Roger’s paintings, however, we have the sense of the instinctive work of some earlier avian maker having worked painstakingly to generate a pattern. Roger, as a conscious and deliberative artist, can only follow, though with his own deliberated modifications and ‘improvements’. 

As Roger works his way through the changes and variations of the Nest paintings we might expect the idea to be gradually exhausted, so that some other subject, or some quite different approach, comes into his view. After a long career working as a designer meeting his clients’ demands, Roger is venturing into a career as an artist in which he has to meet the demands of his own criticism. I suspect that, as he takes his art more and more seriously, he is going to find himself facing a more demanding critic than he ever had before.  

Dr Alan Lee  

(1)  David Thistlewood, Herbert Read: Formlessness and Form (1984), p. 112.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Blue Feather

This is a new nest painting,I believe it's complete but I never think they are finished, I always want to add one more piece of detail. But I'm going to resist this time and leave it as it is.
The size is 1m x 1m, it has a pale blue background.

Monday, December 8, 2008

SOLD - Dreamweaver

I have been trying to collect all the images featuring nests. This one was painted in 04 and belongs to my son James. It's a small painting, about 350 mm square.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

SOLD - In Flight

This painting was completed in 05, it sits in a dentists waiting room here in South Australia. it apparently gets lots of good comments according to my dentist friend! I'm trying to post all of my nest paintings I think there is one other old painting to catch up on.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nest on a Ledge

This little painting was finished last weekend, it's a little more free in the application of paint, I'm trying very hard to not use the fine brushes all the time, my next painting will be a still life without a nest!! watch this space,


A new and beautiful nest painting, just completed. This one will be appearing in the next edition of the Australian Art Collector magazine. A primitive space ship, traveling in space and holding within itself an embryonic life force.

Monday, October 27, 2008

SOLD - The Blue Egg

This is a commissioned piece from a client that loved a similar painting that was sold earlier this year. So I changed the proportions to suit their needs, I am particularly proud of this painting and will miss it when it leaves the studio.

SOLD - Shelter from the Storm

This is a smaller sized painting, about 600 x 500 mm. Painted directly from a collected nest. I had been asked by a prospective client to do a painting of this size and I will show him sometime next week. Any visitors to my blog site, I would be really pleased to hear your comments or questions you may have regarding my work. (Is there anyone out there?)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nest on Grey

This nest painting is fairly large scale, 120 cm x 120 cm. (It fits into my RAV, only just!)
I may enter this into the annual Balmain Art show in Sydney this November. i love the background splatter effect, and the colour of the nest works very well against the neutral grey background. It's a powerful image and if and when it sells I will miss it!


I have changed the contents of this nest a couple of times. It started with two dead chicks' skeletons, which were found in this nest during the hot summer. Friends told me it would be hard to sell with such a sad story, so I replaced them with three eggs. This picture will go into the annual Cathedral Art show next month, here in Adelaide

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

SOLD - Grey and Brown

A new painting, finished on the weekend, or as an artist friend of mine pointed out "a paintng is never finished, just abandoned". It's about 1 meter wide, and has an unintentional surrealist look to it. I will put it in one of the up-coming local art shows unless one of my blog visitors snaps it up before hand! Contact me for a price.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Nest on Black Three Blue Eggs

AVAILABLE this painting is 120 x 120 cm, it was painted late last year.

Nest on Sandstone

AVAILABLE I've had this painting in my studio for some time now and I decided to add the blue egg which helps give it a focal point. This painting is available, email me for details should you be interested in purchasing. The size is 120 x 120 cm.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

This painting was exhibited in the main 'Hunt Leather' shop in Balmain, Sydney. A client in Adelaide saw it on my website and I had to transport it back here after only being on the wall a few days!

A smaller painting, one of my first. I can't remember who bought it, or where it went.

This is a large nest painting 120 cm x 120 cm. it was sold from my exhibition at Scarletti's gallery in Clare, and I believe it went to a collector in Broken Hill, NSW.

This is a smaller painting, and at the time of posting this blog, it is still available. It measures 500 cm x 500 cm. It won a major prize at the Flagstaff Hill annual exhibition, the judge was well known prize winning painter, John McCartin.


Here are four of my nest paintings at my Sydney solo exhibition last year. All of these have since been sold.

Monday, May 19, 2008

nest series 7

SOLD - May 2008
This painting was made from a nest that was given to me by a friend living up in the Adelaide Hills. Receiving nests from people in plastic bags etc seems to be the norm these days! Some look better than others and these are the ones that I try to use in my paintings. This particular painting is showing me a development towards a free-er form of applying the paint. I'm blending edges and smudging colours. This one sold at it's first showing.

This painting is almost 1 meter square, the nests on black backgrounds are very dramatic and look sensational on a large white wall. This picture was completed in December 2007.

nest series 6

SOLD - December 2007
This nest painting was done the other day, it's smaller than I normally do, about 500 x 500 cms, it works well, I believe because it was painted quickly in a more spontaneous way, I held myself back from labouring over it, with too much fine detail, (a habit left over from my years as an illustrator!)

nest series 4

SOLD - October 2007
This painting was completed for the exhibition, of all the nest paintings I have completed this one is probably the mostpowerful, and the one that has had the most praise, while at the exhibition, a stranger spoke to me and told me why I painted these nests,( spooky!.) according to him, the blackeness in the centre draws you in, and then once focussed, they have a mandala effect which helps with meditation? they also according to him have a spirituality, were they bring nature and art together, etc etc, fascinating!! I of course new all this before I painted them!

nest series 3

SOLD - July 2007
This is a commisioned painting of a birds nest, someone saw an earlier one of mine at an exhibition, and by the time she had brought her husband back for his approval, it had been sold. so she found me and asked if I would do one specially for her. it is oil on canvas and a metre square.

nest series 2

SOLD - April 2007
Birds nest on an ochre background.
This one went to Broken Hill NSW. Its 1m20 x 1m20. One of my best, shame to get rid of it! Now I have to do another one.

Nest series 1

SOLD - April 2007
Here are some of my trademark birds-nest oil paintings. I paint these from an empty nest I found. They have proven to be quite popular, as all of these have already been sold.