Casey Roberts gets it 

Casey Roberts: A Bigger, Brighter Place

AV Framing Gallery

Through Jan. 24

It's often called the "voice" or "vision" - whatever it is that sets an artist's work apart, that makes it distinctive. It's what enables you, without the aid of an eager-to-please label, to know who wrote that paragraph, sang that song or made that picture. In a variation on the theme that many are called but few are chosen, there are artists who spend their careers trying to find it, and others who seem to get it from the start.

Casey Roberts gets it.

Roberts, who has a new show at AV Framing Gallery in Fountain Square, has found not just a method to set his work apart (more on that in a moment), but a visual iconography that provides his paintings with a primal sense of story that feels, at once, timeless and immediate. Imagine what might happen if some Eskimos from the upper reaches of Hudson's Bay got hooked on David Lynch and you can begin to get Roberts' effect.

Roberts says his paintings are created through use of cyanotype, a photochemical process dating back to the Civil War era that, when exposed to sunlight and developed, provides a vibrant blue image on paper or canvas. Roberts then uses agents like baking soda, bleach and peroxide to achieve a range of colors and textures through a many-layered process that may then be enhanced through the addition of watercolor painting or collage elements.

The collection now on view was inspired, according to Roberts, by a trip last summer to Los Angeles. It was his second time there; the first had been a disappointment. But Roberts found himself liking L.A. the second time around, responding gladly to its open, coastal vibe. Hence the name for this show: A Bigger, Brighter Place.

This discovery manifests itself in peek-a-boo bursts of vivid color that Roberts adds to his characteristically dreamy blue landscapes. As in the past, there are still the vignettes of forest, including barely silent tree stumps and standing trunks that echo the lumberman's mantra to "kill kill kill." But there are also flights of moths in brilliant hues and, here and there, rainbow spouts accompanied by glimpses of white whales gallivanting in a distance that is simultaneously far out and close at hand.

Roberts' reliance on elemental lines and forms borrows from the naïve without seeming derivative or like mere appropriation. Something else is going on here: the artist's conviction, perhaps, that the sky can cry, that trees feel pain, that what he knows about the world can make a whale wink. The world, in other words, has feelings, too. Roberts seems to know this down deep. And so his work is not just an exercise in style, but the excavation of an essential vocabulary about the earth and our place in it.

A Bigger, Brighter Place, new works by Casey Roberts, is at AV Framing Gallery, 1139 Shelby St., through Jan. 24. Call 317-356-3776 for hours and appointments.

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David Hoppe

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