Though many see visual art as a “quiet” and solitary art, the vibrant colors of Bailee Roberts’ paintings call to viewers, the subjects’ expression engaging and connecting audiences of different backgrounds. Each piece, unique as their own stories, offer something to be felt and a message to be heard. And behind each vibrant piece is an artist with her own colorful story.
As a child, Roberts spent a lot of time watching her grandfather paint in her studio with music in the background. Surrounded by his vivid colors, his genuine joy in creating, and his untethered imagination, Roberts fell in love with art in its most intimate form. She would spend afternoons in her grandfather’s studio on a chair beside him, watching as he created and narrated the stories of his work in progress. After she learned how to hold a pencil, he taught her the basics of color theory and learning through watching and trial and error, Roberts began to draw. She started with drawing pictures of her family and friends. While her family sat and talked, she would be on the floor drawing what they were doing.
“Growing up, I always had these stories and pictures floating around in my head and I knew I needed an “outlet” but I didn’t know what. I ended up just drawing for hours and hours per day. When I was four or five, my parents would have to buy a new set of printer paper, which is about 500 sheets, every week because I would just blow through them,” Roberts said.
Now a senior in the Visual Arts Conservatory at California School of the Arts-San Gabriel Valley, Roberts paints vivid portraits of people both real and imagined. She paints in sporadic bursts, sometimes not drawing for two weeks and then suddenly getting a “driving impulse” and creating upwards of four pieces in a week. Her work often displays a range of ethnicities, and are inspired by artists Roy Lichtenstein, Van Gogh and Salvador Dali for their expression, movement, and composition respectively.
“I try to include every single type of person into my artwork: male, female, black, white, Asian, Native-American, everyone,” Roberts said. “While I do not have the representation yet that I want, I think I’m well on my way. I think that representation matters mostly because I see a lot of “white-washing” in art. I don’t see a lot of artists paint different races if they’re white. The world is made up of many different ethnicities and I want to be able to represent that in my art.”
Most of the people in Roberts’ art exude a sense of happiness or tranquility. They smile with sparkling eyes, float underwater with the swirls framing an expression of quiet content. Her subjects shine with comfort in their skin, showing off their identities through the flowers in their hair, the pride in their eye, and vibrant colors in their head ties.
“I found that a lot of the people I draw are smiling. I try to be a generally upbeat and happy person, but I don’t always feel that way. I had some personal issues throughout middle school and I remember that I just kept drawing all that time and all my subjects were always happy. Something about looking at a smiling person upwards of six hours a day will make you smile even if you didn’t feel like it before,” Roberts said.
Titled “Melting,” Roberts’ favorite piece featured a young woman staring defiantly at viewers, surrounded by monarch butterflies, their wings dripping artistically. With the subject’s stare vaguely reminiscent of Mona Lisa’s smile, the wings seem to signify something greater, perhaps a metaphor for a hidden meaning viewers have yet to discover.
The secret however, wasn’t in the metaphor, but the process. As her second oil painting, she had accidentally mixed too much paint thinner, resulting in one of the butterflies to drip. Distraught, she recalled crying to her art teacher, who instead of panicking with her, smiled and encouraged her to just go with it.
“They always ask how I had the idea to do that but it was really one giant mistake,” Roberts said. “Being an artist has taught me to be okay with making mistakes. I can’t always make all of my pieces look exactly how I picture them in my head, and I have to be okay with that. I’m a huge perfectionist and learning to “roll with it” really wasn’t in my vocabulary. However, over time, I have learned to be more and more flexible.”
As advice to other artists, Roberts shares: “I would tell other artists to not be so self-critical. Art isn’t something you master all at once, it takes time and growth. You don’t know what style you have yet, you don’t know what subjects you like to draw/paint. You’re constantly changing and learning and you may not be happy with everything you create, and that’s okay.”
Check out more of her work at http://www.baileeroberts.com/