Me: The Early Years

I am always quite surprised when people want to know my story. To me, I am the most unremarkable boring person alive. I do have a past and many stories, so I will indulge in telling them. This is a follow up to a very condensed version posted to Instagram.

At age 2 my mom recognized my love of drawing and made a note in my baby book that I was “very artistically abled from the time she could hold a crayon”. I suppose when this is mentioned from such a young age, it is no wonder that I followed an artistic path in life. Was it nature or nurturing? I often say I was born to be an artist.

I can’t remember ever not drawing or taking pictures. I spent many hours in my bedroom quietly colouring and drawing. My favourite gifts as a child: colouring books, doodle art, paper, crayons, pencil crayons, paint, paint by numbers, modelling clay or play doh …….I remember this creepy crawly insect maker once that I liked.

When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up the answer was either jockey or artist. My love of animals was (and still is) equal to my love of creating. I took every art class possible through school. The first time I got sent to the principals office was in grade 7 for drawing anatomically correct nude males. It was art to me, but apparently totally inappropriate to be showing my classmates.

Me age 5 adoring the poodle (with my sisters) – not much has changed!

I think it was about grade 7 or 8 that my art teacher recognized my abilities, but more that my rebellious attitude was totally tamed by allowing me to express my creativity (ie: doodling during other classes). Mrs. Potter was very encouraging. I had other champions too, like my maternal grandmother who dabbled in painting.

Dog drawings from circa 1978 age 14.

Also in junior high I argued against taking home ec in favour of shop class, because shop class got to do photography, which was my other love. From a young age, I would bug my parents to let me use their camera. I got my own crappy little 110 film camera sometime around grade 7 or 8. I loved shop class, and learning how to develop film. We also had to do some metal and leather work, which I also preferred to doing domestic things like sewing and cooking. In hindsight, I wish I’d learned to sew.

In grade 10 I had a fantastic art teacher for half a semester. She was a ‘real’ artist, not just an art teacher. She was a terrific drawer. She had been trying to convince the school to allow the art class to use a live model. It never came to fruition during my time there. We moved after my first semester to a small country school with few resources and not so great of art teacher. It was a big let down, but I still took all the classes available. Although I still loved the drawing and painting assignments, I also fell in love with sculpture.

At 16 I started working at camera stores and 1 hour labs so that I could buy a 35mm camera. I eventually did, starting out with a Ricoh camera and then later upgrading to a Canon. I entered both artwork and photography in the community fall fairs art categories and won a few ribbons, which further encouraged me.

1981 Working at the camera shop

At 18, unbeknownst to my parents, I applied to the Alberta College Of Art (now Alberta University of Art). My portfolio had been based largely on photographs of my sculpted masks. I was accepted. When I showed my acceptance letter to my mom, she said they wouldn’t pay for it. I was too young and naive to know there were other options to fund an education. So my dream died there.

I didn’t quit drawing, painting, or taking photographs, but I did quit dreaming of being an artist. I went to business school. Started working at an oil company in their accounting department, and started taking night classes to earn my CPA (certified public accountant). In the midst of this I found my soulmate. Move to a small town in the middle of nowhere, got married, and had a baby.

Stay tuned for the middle years.

Expressing My Love Of Nature

The sea, sky, and all living creatures are transient. It is only the land that endures. It is the land that sustains us.  I am creating nature based images to provide an escape from the everyday and foster a connection with the importance of the land to mans well-being.

When Brian Was A Boy – 16×20” – Oil on canvas

Rather than provide a mirror to what is easily seen, I am trying to represent ordinary scenes in an expressive way to capture a fleeting mood or impression. Not to explicitly say what I feel, but to allow the viewers imagination to interpret the work, and form a connection to a fleeting thought or emotion they may have felt once before. I want them to sense the importance of the land, and how man needs nature to survive; not just physically but emotionally as well.

“I don’t paint the landscape. I paint the spirit disguised as a landscape.”

I am trying to represent the poetry within a place which the viewer can connect with through the human spirit, more so than the intellect.  It is a form of visual storytelling to communicate with them where words fail. You can speak the words to someone and have them understand, but through a poem or painting you can speak in a language people can feel in the depths of their soul. Because I want to speak on a more emotional, intimate level, my paintings are in a smaller format to foster a closer, quieter conversation. I don’t have a loud personality, so why should my paintings be any different? 

About Roberta Murray

Since childhood art has been my window into freedom – a private retreat which I could escape into. Painting, drawing, and photography were a means for me to create my own world; a world that could be whatever I wanted it to be, real or not. My other passion since childhood is nature. I lived for trips to the mountains, picnics by the lake, stays at family ranches, a trip to the zoo. What I wanted most was to see wildlife or be around animals – dogs, cats, horses, cows, you name it. I loved them all. Bears were, and still are, at the top of the list.

 I have spent the majority of my life living in the country, surrounded by nature, wildlife, and domestic animals. The connection I had with the wild critters of the land was broken when we moved to Red Deer, Alberta in 2018. Though I always knew how important nature and the outdoors was to a persons wellbeing, the move to a city has really made how important wild, open spaces is to a persons soul. 

Mary Oliver said it best:
“Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable. I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.”

Today, the opportunity to view wildlife is even more thrilling and important for my sense of wellbeing than ever before. Some have stated I get as giddy as a child in a candy store, who has just been told they can buy as much as they like, when I see wildlife. It’s true. The thought of our wild places and the creatures who live there being threatened, or disappearing, is of great concern. 

Book Cover Photographer

This has probably been the highlight of 2020.

Sure I’ve had many other book covers, but the only other one that even came close to being from such a well known author was David Baldacci’s “The Hit”. The past couple of years has seen me doing a lot more photography than I had been doing for a few years. Part of that was our move and having new scenery to explore, but also because of becoming more focused on one specific market for my photography.

I started out as a fine art photographer doing work for galleries, and while I still maintain part of my career for the wall decor market, the heaviest emphasis has been on work for book covers which fits with my idea of telling a story through visuals. I have, even during the gallery days, been most interested in how people interrupt the image and the stories they form around it. I love that aspect of being a visual artist!

The other thing that has kind of blossomed in 2020, is the illustrations done for the book cover market. I dabbled with that before, but have really explored it this year when travel and getting out there wasn’t as accessible due to the pandemic. I find the two mediums really compliment each other. The illustrations allow me to put a more human focus into my work that would be difficult (for my introverted self) through photography.

Illustration of an Asian man behind a white picket fence.

If you are interested in my work for the publishing industry, you can view my portfolio at Arcangel Images.

Intimate Stories Of A Two-Chambered Heart

Recently Charles van Heck interviewed me for the online magazine: Life As A Human.

“While viewing the creative work of Roberta Murray, the name Agnes Martin unexpectedly came to mind.

Born in Macklin, Saskatchewan, Agnes Martin (1912-2004) grew up in Vancouver, then moved to the United States in 1931. A self-described abstract expressionist, her work is primarily associated with Taos, New Mexico. There is an absence of similarities between Ms. Martin’s minimalist paintings and Roberta Murray’s representational images of Alberta, Canada. It is in their spirits, their quest to discover, understand, and present us with beauty that binds these two distinct artists.”

Read the rest of the interview at Life As A Human.