Stephen Friedman Gallery opens an exhibition of works by Deborah Roberts

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Stephen Friedman Gallery opens an exhibition of works by Deborah Roberts
Deborah Roberts, 'Satan devouring his child', 2022. Mixed media and collage on canvas, 213.4 x 213.4cm (84 1/8 x 84 1/8in). Copyright Deborah Roberts. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. Photo by Colin Boyle.

LONDON.- The show features new paintings dominated by black backgrounds and some of the largest works the artist has ever made. Simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, heroic and insecure, Roberts’ subjects reveal how systemic racism, gender politics and western beauty standards shape the way Black children grow up. Amongst the references that inform the series are prominent incidents of racism in the UK, including the recent case of Child Q.

By mastering collage – a medium used since the early twentieth century to challenge socio-political norms – Roberts exposes the inequities and violence of contemporary society. Composing works using found materials from the internet, literature and photographs, the artist deconstructs stereotypes perpetuated by mainstream visual culture. Roberts juxtaposes these with hand-painted details, combining a range of skin tones, facial features, hairstyles and clothes to embrace an expansive view of Black identity.

Roberts continues her investigation into the psychological burden that Black children bear by highlighting their lack of visibility. Subtle variations in skin tone render Roberts’ figures barely discernible, drawing the viewer in closer to acknowledge their presence. This is emphasised by her sparse use of line, alluding to the chalk outlines drawn around bodies in crime scenes.

Roberts also draws upon Western art history to critique current racial injustices. The twisted poses of her figures recall Egon Schiele’s contorted human forms, addressing the violence inflicted on Black individuals forcibly arrested by the police. Roberts references Picasso’s Black Period and his reluctance to acknowledge the influence of African art on his own practice. She instead champions the so-called ‘primitive’ African designs appropriated by Picasso, letting them stand out in the clothes worn by several of the children.

Running concurrently with Roberts’ exhibition at the gallery is a group show that explores the notion of collage entitled ‘From Near and Far’ co-curated by Roberts and Katy Hessel, founder of The Great Women Artists podcast. The presentation includes new and historical works by 16 female artists including Jordan Casteel, Kenturah Davis, Lubaina Himid, Hudzanai-Violet Hawami, Anne Rothenstein, Betye Saar, Amy Sherald and Mickalene Thomas amongst many others.

A major touring solo exhibition of Roberts’ work is currently on view at Art + Practice in collaboration with California African American Museum, Los Angeles. The artist has a forthcoming two-person show with Benny Andrews at McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas later this year.

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