Ann Roberts: With Both Fear and Intrepid Enthusiasm

January 29 – April 22, 2012

Click here for The Cord coverage of this exhibition

Ann Roberts’ 50-year retrospective of extraordinary ceramic sculptures demonstrates her tremendous versatility, technical brilliance, and creative inventiveness — qualities that make her one of the most exciting artists still working today. The exhibition focuses on specific areas of her practice beginning with her early functional works through to her permanent move to sculpture.

Born in South Africa, Ann Roberts is a ceramic sculptor whose work has been exhibited in 18 solo, and 131 invitational or juried exhibitions in Canada and internationally. She has completed eight major sculpture and mural commissions. Her work is illustrated in 15 books, discussed in journal articles and collected by 22 museums in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Canada, including the Museum of Civilization, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery. Roberts has twice been nominated for the Governor General’s Award, and has been a finalist for the prestigious national Saidye Bronfman arts award. In 1988, she was elected to the International Academy of Ceramics (IAC) and in 1997 to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA).

In addition to her legacy as teacher and mentor as a Professor at the University of Waterloo where she taught sculpture and drawing (1977-2001), she is perhaps best known for her volunteer work for art organizations. Beginning in Montreal in 1960, where she became President of the Montreal Potters, she moved to Waterloo in 1967, where she helped found the Waterloo Potters Workshop. While she was President of Ceramists Canada in 1982, Roberts formed a Steering Committee to determine the feasibility of building a national gallery for clay and glass in Canada. Subsequently she chaired the Board of the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery from 1983-1991, through a national architectural competition to start the construction in Waterloo.

Ann Roberts’ clay sculpture has been strongly influenced by mythology, and her work is rich with implied narrative and literary sensibility. She said once, “I think along the lines of poetry when I’m working.  When a poet chooses words he does so for specific reasons, for the duality of sound and meaning, and if that poet can find the words to make you understand and feel his work then he is successful.” Poetry, like mythology and art is often full of specific markers and symbols that guide the reader with leading clues to an eventual greater understanding of its intent. However, rather than provide answers, often there is greater power in ambiguity where a lack of obvious clarity allows for greater searching for personal resonance with the work. This is so for Roberts’s work and it is precisely this distinction that makes her work so successful — lending it with a sense of the inspired. While her own stories and interests may have generated the works, as we interact with them, their meanings remain open to interpretation through our own personal libraries of symbols and life experiences.

Virtually every religious teaching incorporates the use of anthropomorphic animal archetypes in some way and Carl Jung believed that since animals do not operate with human moral codes — they live according to their natural dictates — animal archetypes were contained within the intuitive knowledge of collective unconscious. Whether Roberts’ works are infused with Jungian archetypes or figures from world mythos, they are always expressed through her own filter of personal experience. Ann Roberts once said that “myth is something you play with.” In fact, in ancient Greece, bards, poets, and the common man’s telling of myths were often ephemeral and fluid with changeable outcomes to suit any occasion until Homer wrote them down and the stories became forever fixed — or rigid — in their interpretations. While her use of goddess imagery in her work retells myths from a feminine point of view, the unabashed expression of sexual themes affirms and celebrates the power of both women and men.

Ann Roberts’ sculpture work is ultimately difficult to label. Her human figures and anthropomorphic imagery of rabbits and dogs are found in dream-like situations offering clues to personal meanings for each viewer. Water is especially significant in the way that it not only ties in transportation and transplantation, but might refer to the underworld, the subconscious, and perhaps even the collective unconscious. In the same way that we try to interpret our own dreams, Roberts’ works are perhaps best understood intuitively and approached with an open heart thereby offering the possibility of personal revelation.

Christian Bernard Singer, Curator


Ann Roberts in the Media:
“The Last Voyage?” by Robert Reid, Waterloo Region Record January 24 2012 (PDF)

“With both fear and intrepid enthusiasm” by Gayle Ryan, The Cord, February 2, 2012 (PDF)

Ann Roberts interviewed on CTV’s The Beat, February 18 (Select February 18 from archive list to the right of video)

Blog Post by Gloria Hickey: