One of the biggest challenges of photographing someone is to not have them look like they are being photographed. It is a subtle quality that is almost impossible to define, but easy to see. To this end I usually engage the subjects in conversation during the shoot. Invariably people have interesting stories. Often so interesting that I'd like to pause from taking pictures and start taking notes.
This was the case with Lee Roberts. So, instead of taking notes, when it came time to prepare this post, I sent him a list of questions about subjects that had come up during the shoot. The result is this interview. Lee has generously supplied photos of his wire sculptures to help illustrate our conversation.
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Where were you born?
I was born in Woking, in England, and grew up in North Wales.
You had to change schools when you were young and it had quite an effect on you. Can you tell me that story?
I received a scholarship and attended Lowther College, at Bodelwyddan Castle, for most of my schooling. It was originally built as a shelter for the Royal Family. It was set in 250 acres of parkland with a golf course, many formal gardens, practice trenches from the first world war, 3 different libraries, (reference, fiction and general) and there was original artwork throughout. Academia was not really the priority of the school. I was most interested in architectural drawing, art, and being a member of the ornithology club. The students were from all over the world and being one of a handful of lads amidst 300 girls was good fun too!
Unfortunately, Lowther School closed and I was moved to the local high school which was and entirely different experience — 1700 kids and a concrete playground. Fortunately for me, Lowther had a strong emphasis on physical education and I faired well at the many initial challenges I faced from school gangs. After a few solid fights, a desk top being hurled at me, and successfully besting the kid with the worst reputation I was left alone.
At Lowther, art was viewed as purely a recreational activity, so coming top of my class was relatively unimportant. In this new school it was different, and my art teacher almost immediately identified with my art and really encouraged me to follow a creative path.
Despite the academic teachers encouraging me to go in other directions, my art grew and was my real focus. At 15 I took my paintings of birds and an abstract of David Bowie to art school and applied for the Higher National Diploma. I was accepted and (after debate with my parents) left home and rented a room in Wrexham - a few miles of the college.
You apprenticed as a sign painter. What did you learn from that and how did it influence your future work?
From the age of 14, I built and painted commercial signs to earn money and support my studies at art collage. I learnt by trail and error, but did a good enough job to be asked to come back and retouch the signs over the next few years – some would age or be damaged. It wasn't my intended business model, but it was a good one, and I left college without debt.
When did you move to Canada?
I came first to Canada when I was 22.
My Great grandfather was Canadian and my grandfather told me that "If you go to Canada, you won't come back, its a marvelous country." When I was 16 at art school I had to write an essay about what I saw myself doing. I said that “I was going to be an artist in Canada"
When did you start the Goldmoss Gallery?
Goldmoss Gallery was opened in October, 2010.
What are your feelings about Goldmoss - your philosophy behind it? It is, in my opinion, built and run on a very professional level. Running a space like that is a lot of work. What is it that keeps you at it?
A belief in Art. Enthusiasm. Patience and energy … lots of energy!
Actually, the decision to open Goldmoss as a commercial space happened quite organically — it was done to foster long-term creative and collaborative relationships. The art industry is a transient one, and we (myself and Bon Roberts) liked the idea of a consistent base to meet and create from. We're now in our third year. Its very rewarding: seeing artists, including ourselves, develop and produce, and then introducing works to new people and witnessing them build an understanding and appreciation of the work.
We share the Goldmoss gallery spaces without commission or fees to the artists, so essentially, we're all artists sharing the space.
About the birds.
While I paint and sculpt many other forms, I studied bird bone structure, have collected skeletons and feel very at-ease incorporating them into my art. Four years of life drawing classes at art collage has meant that the human form and the avian form can work together (or separately) for me.
The wire sculptures are a remarkable combination of drawing and sculpture. How did you come up with that idea?
I make little things with whatever is in my hands. I've made hundreds of things out of, say, match boxes, or out of the wire from wine bottles, or materials I come across. They are just little 3d sketches that I like to make. People seem to be attracted to them. The combination of wire and drawing is very natural to me. The wire I use is about the width of a pencil line. I draw every day, but I think three dimensionally.
Wire is wild and unwieldily stuff though, and it's so easy to loose the form of a line. It is very easy to have it look like wire - rather than a drawing.
How would you describe the wire sculptures that are part human, part bird?
I feel like a bird, a raven actually. Not from choice or desire, I just resonate with their approach to life. When I put a bird head on a human body in my art; I don't have any real challenges with the transition — which still surprises and delights me.
They really do fit together as one, when I draw, carve, cut, or form them out of wire. This means that they can talk to people, without the obvious identification of features, and be more universally communicative with the viewer.
If I recall correctly, one of the bird-people was modeled after your father - can you tell me about that and his reaction to the finished piece?
Yes, it was a small piece, about 14" and it made everyone that saw it smile. This is how I see my father: a light, whimsical, and fun loving spirit, with a bit of a peck. It sold the first day it was shown so my Father didn't get to see the real thing. I sent him a picture of it and it's the first piece he didn't comment on almost immediately. I think ... it was a bit of a shock for him initially. But he gets it now, and he is a big fan of the Bird people.
What are your hopes for the future?
Bon and I are working at developing our own paths as artists in painting, sculpture and installation.
Collaboration is huge for us, and we work together, as well as with other artists almost on a daily basis. I see this getting more formalized and growing nicely.
Without expectations ... or a ceiling to the limit of our abilities to contribute to the world, to the art world directly, or the artists we share our space with ... we just try our best at what we choose to take on. There are always surprises and truly memorable events and encounters at Goldmoss, we deeply cherish these and are always open to them, and the changes they bring.
The Sunshine Coast is a place where we love to be close to nature and free from the mundane, so far — so good!
You can find the Goldmoss Gallery online here: goldmoss.com