by Ivy Wigmore
Nigel Roe tells his students in the Graphic Design program at Holland College that there are three stages in the creation of art. The first stage is thought, as the artist develops the idea of what he or she wants to achieve. The second stage involves looking at all the sources available to inform that idea, such as other art and media, and the external world. According to Roe, only after these two stages have been completed is the artist ready to begin the third stage, the physical act of creation.
In Roe's recent exhibit at the Confederation Centre, Land Over Time, the three stages of creation are manifest in the selected pieces. The compelling questions and musings that motivate him are evident in the notes written on many of the pieces as he paints. Roe says that these are a part of a running commentary that he keeps up while he works. Although this could be described as talking to himself, it is also a dialog with the subject at hand. For example, notes on The big tree, now the big tower ruminate over the way that the tree's dominant place in landscape is usurped by the cell tower. Pieces in the show are clearly informed by external sources: technology; the natural world; each other. The physical creation is all but demonstrated: we see that layers of paint have been added here and removed there, thoughts jotted down here, and scribbled over there.
Insatiably curious, Roe takes in all the information he can, from all the sources available, and lets it all burble away beneath the surface. From this subconscious brew, the most compelling subjects arise and, eventually, result in physical realization.
Asked to describe the processes between concept and realization, Roe delineates the stages of development for The gate, which he calls his "least favorite" piece in the show. The gate is somber, its dark and murky colours a marked contrast to vibrant blues and greens around it. In fact, The gate was intended to be part of a series with two other pieces, Blue intrusion in the landscape and Promontory, barrier, both of which are bright-coloured and evocative of a sunlit beach, despite their underlying conflict. In comparison to these, The gate evokes some seaside industrial construction. Roe says that he worked on the three paintings concurrently, and that The gate, like the other two, was quite light to begin with. But the lightness didn't work for him; Roe found himself scraping successively deeper through the light layers. As he approached the dark paint beneath all that lightness, Roe realized that The gate was intended to be dark.
Much of Roe's work features shifting surfaces: layers added and subtracted, words scribbled over images, erased and scribbled over. In essence, the viewer is given access to the artist's processes, and is thus privy to the stages of creation.
This is the first of a series of articles in which Ivy Wigmore talks to Island visual artists about what motivates theircreativity.