Dale Roberts creates sculptural works that span a great range of scale and expression, fabricating his pieces from a variety of unlikely materials, including wood, hemp, rope and twine. Utilizing rope- and net-making skills learned during an early life spent in the Maritimes, Roberts uses nautical objects and textiles to create delicate, complex forms resembling aquatic plants, corals, shells, and sea creatures. These forms are knotted, woven, crocheted, strung or twined from multiple fibres and textiles, and often incorporate scavenged cloth and found objects. Roberts’ repertoire of found elements includes delicately coloured fabric, glittering beads, glass orbs, antique lace, cascades of fringe, and gleaming metal. Contrasts of surfaces and textures, combined with exquisitely balanced complements of colours and shapes, create grand, symphonic patterns that resonate throughout the show.
Roberts’ formal triumph is all the more impressive given the scope, intricacy and coherence of this most recent body of works. The show consists of over a hundred individual, small pieces. Each piece is utterly unique in character, even while each expresses a lively responsiveness to every other work in Roberts’ aquatic corpus. Like vital members of an interactive, organic whole, the discrete works present as symbiotic communicants in a formal, aesthetic ecology, the tightly integrated structures of which cohere to create a deceptive illusion of ethereal fragility.
In actual fact, these works are virtually indestructible. Their tightly woven microstructures endow a cellular intactness to the painstakingly built volumes, spaces and contours of these tiny, epic expressions. ‘Seasoning’ in the sea is a penultimate stage of creation for many of Roberts pieces; brine, wind and surf serve as the active agents, lending scent, patina, weathered patterns, and ‘antique’ colourations to the works. For the period of time Roberts’ sculptures inhabit natural settings -- exposed to the flukes of wind, weather, and tides -- they must be considered as environmental art, occupying and responding to the elements. They then present collectively as ‘Fine Art’ in the classical sense, manifesting in sheer numbers and consistency as a gallery exhibition with multiple sensory appeal. The works can not only be seen, but smelled, minutely examined, and even touched. Roberts encourages the notion of taking the wall sculptures off the wall and handling them for maximum sensual appreciation. My first response to this news was the urge to bury my nose in frothy cascades of fabric and rub some of the softer, more exuberant pieces on my face.
An intimate response to the works is quite natural, as one endearing feature of the small wall sculptures, collectively called the “Distorts,” is that they resemble nothing so much as recovered, vaguely familiar parts of the organic body. These could be tender, vulnerable ‘parts’ of the emotional body, or aspirational impulses of the spiritual body. They can even be related to as mysterious, little understood organs of the physical body, whose purposes and functions are vestigial but deemed somehow essential to the whole -- like tonsils, appendixes, or nipples on men. They are human seeming even while resembling hypothetical evolutionary, possibly alien, ancestors. They possess humanity and strangeness in equal measure.
Some pieces are distinctly erotic, suggesting intimate anatomies or delicate, vaguely recognised genital organs and erogenous zones. Curling, coiling, wrapping, folding – the sculptures are embodied inscriptions of strength and vulnerability, tactile sensitivity and desire. They are reminiscent of fingers and lips, genitalia and fingertips, the sensitive tissues of bodily responsiveness and access. They seem valorously trusting in their labial display, putting it out there in their celebratory magnitude. One focuses on the individual pieces one by one, after first being dazzled by their legion numbers upon the wall, a fiesta of carnival colours and jaunty fetishes, like those that festoon the headpieces of Mardi Gras celebrants or Circe de Soleil trapeze artists.